By Reps. Lauren Necochea, D-Boise, and Colin Nash, D-Boise
Work, family and our children. These are the values embedded in the Idaho Working Families Agenda that House Democrats unveiled this week [Feb. 19]. We propose a package of tax and budget solutions that deliver benefits to Idahoans who are often overlooked. The agenda has three components: tax credits for working Idaho families, lower property taxes for homeowners and seniors, and targeted investments in our children’s education.
A tax structure should lift up working Idaho families and build a thriving middle class. It should never tax working families into financial hardship. The Idaho Working Families Agenda lifts up Idahoans in two ways: first, it increases the child tax credit to $250 and allows every family — not just the highest earners — to access the full value of the credit; second, it creates a sliding-scale tax credit for working Idahoans, putting hundreds of dollars back into their pockets.
Our communities rely on the services that property taxes provide, including emergency response, law enforcement and schools. The problem is we are shifting more of the tax load onto homeowners. For years, Idaho’s homeowner exemption rose with housing costs. This protected homeowners from steep increases in their property tax bills and helped maintain a fair balance of the tax load between homes and other types of real estate.
Republicans in the Legislature capped this exemption in 2016. Now homeowners are paying increasingly more each year while commercial property owners are paying less. Additionally, the Legislature has failed to update the property tax assistance program for seniors and Idahoans with disabilities since 2006.
The Idaho Working Families Agenda restores balance by increasing the homeowner’s exemption and reinstating the annual adjustment so it increases with housing costs. This will maintain a fair balance between different types of property over time. We also propose to double our property tax assistance for seniors by increasing the amount of assistance and making more Idahoans eligible.
Our agenda stands in stark contrast to the tax plan the House GOP leaders revealed this week. That plan has steep tax cuts for only the highest earners and most profitable corporations. This is paid for, in part, by eliminating the popular grocery tax credit that helps everyone. This means a family of four earning less than $75,000 can expect to pay more in taxes under the GOP plan.
This is the playbook the Idaho GOP has been following for decades: With every round of cuts, the top 1% receives thousands of dollars in benefits, while regular Idahoans receive few benefits or see their taxes go up.
Finally, we cannot ignore the dire needs of our schools. Idaho is 50th in the nation for school investment. This stifles our children’s potential. Idaho’s own education experts have long recommended a full-day kindergarten option to improve literacy and other educational outcomes. This commitment to our children is overdue, and the time is now to fund optional full-day kindergarten in every district.
Additionally, we must address the severe disruptions in learning brought on by the pandemic. We should dedicate one-time funds leftover from the current budget year to allow schools to add instructional hours, tutors, reading specialists, after-school programming, summer learning programs or other strategies to help our children catch up.
Our Idaho Working Families Agenda balances overdue tax benefits for working families and the school investments our children need. Idahoans shouldn’t need a lobbyist to get a fair shake. It is time to restore balance of power at the Legislature and finally put Idaho’s working families first.
Rep. Lauren Necochea is a second-term Democratic lawmaker from District 19 in Boise, serving as assistant minority leader and on the Commerce and Human Resources; Environment, Energy and Technology; Revenue and Taxation; and Ways and Means committees. Rep. Colin Nash is in his first term as a Democratic lawmaker from District 16 in Boise, serving on the Appropriations; Environment, Energy and Technology; and Judiciary, Rules and Administration committees.
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