As we complete week four, the pace in the Statehouse is accelerating. In the continuing debate over the future of education in Idaho, 7 bills were introduced in the Senate (4 bills) and House (3 bills) Education Committees to limit teachers' collective bargaining rights, some echoing elements from Proposition 1 that voters rejected last November. The bills were introduced by the Idaho School Boards Association but do not enjoy the unanimous support of all members. In fact, the move has divided the ISBA. Today, the Joint Education Committees held "Listening Hearings" where public testimony was given for nearly three hours. But if the Legislature votes to reinstate portions of these widely rejected laws without stakeholder consensus, we communicate to voters that we don't value their message to us; that we are not in fact listening.
A state-run health insurance exchange bill is being debated in the Senate Commerce & Human Resources Committee. With the Supreme Court affirming the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, Idaho decided to tackle how to comply with the law's provisions through a non-profit, state exchange, instead of ceding control to a federal exchange. An exchange is a transparent marketplace for the purchase of insurance by individuals and small businesses. Aside from giving the state more autonomy, adopting a state-based exchange will keep insurance plans more affordable in Idaho. The details of this non-profit, state-based plan will be what we can negotiate. I commend the Governor for his efforts to provide this service to Idaho's citizens.
Around this time each year, legislators are visited by the Idaho Association of Cities, followed by the Idaho Association of Counties, to share ideas and express concerns between state and local governments. Not surprisingly, the giant topic on everyone's lips is the push by some legislators and large companies to repeal the business personal property tax.
The governor has placed a priority on eliminating this tax on equipment used by businesses which would reduce the state's tax receipts by $141 million. Without a replacement funding source, schools, infrastructure and programs supporting everything from indigent care to emergency services will suffer. This is a public health and safety issue and we must balance this legitimate concern, and the overall well-being of our local communities, against any benefits derived from a tax repeal.
The level of dependency of counties on personal property tax revenues varies greatly (from 1% to 50%), making the impact of an across-the-board repeal inequitable. Local option taxes won't work in communities with a small population base and shifting yet another tax burden to homeowners is not the answer. HB599, passed in 2008 but not yet triggered, exempts the first $100,000 in personal property tax which effectively repeals the tax for 85% of all Idaho businesses. The 2008 law also earmarked $21 million from the General Fund to replace lost revenues to counties.
Why rush into this? Idaho has the second best personal property tax rate in the nation. According to the Idaho Director of Commerce, Jeff Sayer, Idaho has moved from 30th to 15th in the nation since 2010 for business friendliness. The biggest concern among Idaho businesses is a skilled, educated workforce, not personal property tax.
Remember to join me and Representatives Donna Pence and Steve Miller at the District 26 Legislative Town Hall Forums this weekend. We will share what is happening at the Statehouse and listen to your questions and concerns and we encourage you to attend. Here is the complete schedule:
Friday, February 1st
5:30 p.m. Ketchum Whiskey Jacques (upstairs)
Saturday, February 2nd
8:00 a.m. Bellevue Oak Street Take-Out Deli
10:00 a.m. Shoshone Community Center
12:00 p.m. Gooding Zeppies Pizza
2:00 p.m. Wendell City Hall
4:00 p.m. Hagerman City Hall
Please email me at email@example.com or call my office at 208-332-1353 with any questions or concerns.