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Idaho House panel introduces tax cut proposals

A Statehouse committee room. Photo by Patrick Sweeney

A Statehouse committee room. Photo by Patrick Sweeney

Idaho lawmakers ushered in the first tax cut proposals of the 2017 legislative session on Jan. 25 with the hope of providing Idahoans with a little more cash in their pockets at the end of the year.

House Majority Leader Mike Moyle of Star said that he wants to exempt the first $750 of income from taxation, as well as reduce the top income and corporate rates from 7.4 percent to 7.2 percent. The entire proposal is estimated to provide roughly $51 million in tax relief.

Compared with neighboring states, Idaho’s top individual income tax and corporate income tax rates are higher than Montana’s and Utah’s. Wyoming and Nevada do not tax in those categories.

Moyle has long advocated for giving money back to taxpayers over the years, but that sentiment has only grown inside the Republican-controlled Idaho Statehouse as state budget analysts are predicting a $68 million surplus this fiscal year, which ends in June.

“This is the first stab at tax reduction this year,” Moyle said.

Meanwhile, Rep. Janet Trujillo, a Republican from Idaho Falls, pitched a bill that would bump the exemption on Idaho’s surcharge on business equipment to $250,000. Currently, only the first $100,000 of a business’s personal property — everything from its desks and computers to big semiconductor equipment — is exempt from taxation

Trujillo, who is married to Moyle, estimated that her bill would cost the state $8 million proposal.

The House Taxation and Revenue Committee introduced both proposals Jan. 25. The bills must now clear a full legislative hearing.

Rep. Gary Collins, chairman of the tax panel, said that he does not have any other major tax cut proposals on upcoming agendas, noting there was no current proposal to meddle with the grocery tax credit program.

In Idaho, tax cut proposals start in the House chambers, but their fate is determined in the Senate — which recently been a tougher arena for tax cut proposals to survive.

Idaho’s Republican-controlled Statehouse often favors tax cuts, but lawmakers still have to finalize the public schools budget and possibly address the state’s lack of transportation funding over the next few months.

The tax cut proposals were introduced at the same time Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra presented her public schools budget to state budget writers. It’s the largest expenditure out of the state’s general fund, including a $62 million pay increase for teacher salaries.

“I can write a budget as we long as we see continued growth,” said Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, co-chair of the state’s powerful Joint Finance Appropriations Committee. “And we are seeing that growth.”

Furthermore, this year lawmakers are also grappling with finding funds for Idaho’s aging roads and bridges.

Republican Rep. Clark Kauffman, of Filer, said he was worried that tax cut legislation rarely mentions transportation funding.

Kauffman says he has a plan to revive the recently expired plan that dedicated excess general-fund dollars to statewide roads projects. Lawmakers spent the 2015 session in a heated battle over agreeing on the so-called surplus eliminator, but only after putting a two-year expiration date on it.

Under Kauffman’s proposal, which has not surfaced in a legislative committee, the plan would give 60 percent of the new money to statewide highway projects, while 40 percent would go to local districts.

“I have the speaker’s support if I can get it out of committee,” Kauffman said.

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