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Idaho House easily backs personal property tax cut

The Idaho House voted 67-2 March 19 to eliminate the personal property tax for about 90 percent of Idaho businesses, favoring a plan by counties over a broader industry proposal that lawmakers decided was too expensive.

The bill flew through the House. Introduced March 18, it got a brief public hearing the next morning and by mid-afternoon was dispatched to the Senate for consideration.

The proposal exempts businesses’ first $100,000 worth of computers, tables, chairs and other personal property from taxation. Purchases up to $3,000 would be exempt from future taxes, while the bill would also streamline the process by requiring reports just once every five years, instead of annually.

House Majority Leader Mike Moyle of Star said the move prepares Idaho for eventually eliminating the entire $141 million personal property tax, something many Republicans believe will stimulate Idaho’s economy and attract investment.

“Down the line I would like to get rid of the whole tax,” said Moyle, a Republican. “But I think this moves the ball in the right direction.”

Democrats said the bill would get rid of a record-keeping headache for most small- and medium-sized businesses.

“It’s a decrease in the hassle factor — and that’s why I’m supporting it,” said House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston.

The measure was crafted by the Idaho Association of Counties, which for days has been competing for the favor of lawmakers against a more expansive alternative floated by the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, or IACI. Its plan would have reduced the tax by $120 million by 2020.

Counties eventually won affordability grounds.

Local governments would see roughly $20 million in annual tax revenue lost through the county version replaced with future sales tax revenue.

Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, who has made personal property tax repeal a 2013 session priority, has already set aside $20 million in his fiscal year 2014 budget for the revenue replacement.

IACI president Alex LaBeau clearly wasn’t elated, however, pointing out that not a single representative from private business testified for the counties’ bill during the  committee hearing March 19.

“Government seems to think it knows what is best for business better than business does,” LaBeau said. “You’ll notice the only people who testified in favor of the bill were from government.”

Supporters included the Idaho School Boards Association, which argued the industry’s proposal would jeopardize future levies that Idaho’s 115 school districts now rely on to help pay for their operations, by drastically shifting costs to homeowners’ real property taxes.

There’s also a shift under the county’s plan, but officials estimate it’s modest enough not to hurt their cause with voters.

Rep Marc Gibbs, R-Grace, represents Soda Springs, where schools now rely on personal property tax revenue from phosphate mining companies for about 50 percent of annual tax revenue. “This is a good compromise and the best we can do,” he concluded.

This bill now goes to the Senate, where it may face tougher questions from lawmakers who object to extending the tax break to regulated utilities such as Idaho Power Co.

Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee Chairman Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, contends utilities now simply pass the burden to customers, resulting in a “user fee.” Those who use more energy also pay more in taxes, he said.

Siddoway and other senators prefer a measure that excludes utilities from the break, though it’s unclear if these misgivings are significant enough to derail this repeal.


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