Here We Have Idaho

What’s happening at the Legislature this week

By Zach Hagadone
Reader Staff

The big tax cut

Idaho House members approved on strict party lines a $389 million tax cut for state ratepayers, which proponents said would provide ongoing tax relief to the tune of $169.4 million and $220 in a one-time sales/income tax rebate for both individuals and corporations.

In its statement of purpose, House Bill 332 promises to deliver relief to taxpayers in the form of: “A rebate check … sent to 2020 personal income tax filers providing a minimum amount of $50 for each taxpayer and dependent or 9% of income taxes paid in 2019 whichever is greater.” 

Photo illustration by Ben Olson.

Introduced on March 12 and co-sponsored by House Republican leaders, the measure cuts the tax rate for Idaho’s richest corporate and individual payers from 6.9% to 6.5%. The ongoing tax cut would be paid for with $110 million annually deposited to the General Fund from the Tax Relief Fund and $59.4 million from General Funds. The one-time rebate would be paid for with $180 million from the Tax Relief Fund along with $40 million from the General Fund — the latter “covered by not conforming to some IRS codes,” according to the statement of purpose.

According to the Lewiston Tribune, the Idaho Association of Cities opposes the bill, because it “reneges” on a previous promise to share some online sales taxes. Rather, it leaves cities “reliant on property tax dollars — something we’re trying to get away from,” said AIC representative and Garden City Mayor John Evans, according to the Tribune.

While lower-income earners would also see reductions in their tax rate, critics were quick to hammer the proposal. Reclaim Idaho, which has proposed restoring Idaho’s previous corporate tax rate of 8%, and raising the marginal tax rate for those who make more than $250,000 in order to raise $170 million for K-12 education, took aim at HB 332, which passed March 17 with all 58 Republicans voting “aye” and all 12 Democrats voting “nay.”

“On straight party lines, Republicans in the Idaho House have rammed through a massive tax cut for the rich that would blow a $778 million hole in the state budget,” the organization wrote on Facebook. “The bill cuts taxes by $9,000 for the top 1% and $78 for the poor.”

To critics, House Republican Majority Leader Mike Moyle, of Star, said that a separate transportation bill — HB 342 — would give cities “twice as much money” as they would have taken in with the sales tax component of HB 332, according to the Associated Press.

“It’s a good deal,” the AP quoted Moyle. “I also hope cities start living within their means.”

Idaho Democratic House members were displeased by the haste with which the legislation moved from committee to the floor. Idaho Press Boise Bureau Chief Betsy Z. Russell reported that House Democratic Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, of Boise, called her party into caucus March 17, to reconvene in the afternoon on March 18.

Liability and Ammon Bundy

State senators voted 32-2 to approve legislation March 16 that would protect entities ranging from schools to private businesses to government bodies from legal liability in cases alleging their policies and practices resulted in individuals contracting COVID-19.

The measure is an extension of identical legislation approved during the summer 2020 Idaho legislative special session, pushing the sunset date to July 1, 2022. 

As the Associated Press pointed out, the so-called “liability bill” prompted dramatic scenes of civil unrest at the Statehouse during the summer of 2020, during which a glass door was broken and famous anti-government activist Ammon Bundy was arrested twice for noncompliance with law enforcement.

The Bundy family has made headlines since an armed 2014 standoff against federal agents related to grazing rights in Nevada and, in 2016, the militia occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Oregon that left one insurgent dead.

Ammon Bundy — now an Idaho resident — was to face a judge at the Ada County Courthouse in Boise March 15 for his trespassing and resisting arrest charges related to incidents at the Idaho Capitol during the summer, but he and a co-defendant refused to wear masks, per county policy. That resulted in the pair missing their court date, triggering a bench warrant for their arrest.

Boise TV station KTVB reported that Bundy lay on the ground in protest as his supporters demonstrated outside the courthouse.

Bundy remained in the Ada County Jail as of March 16. According to reports, his trial date is set for May 10.

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