by Logan Finney, Idaho Reports
One of the most anticipated bills of the legislative session is inching closer to the finish line – though not without trepidation from school advocates and Democratic lawmakers over the bill’s tradeoffs.
House Bill 292 would offer property tax relief via tax credits for homeowners and facility funding for school districts. It would also end school districts’ ability to run bond and levy elections in March.
Tax committee chairman Sen. Doug Ricks, R-Rexburg, and finance committee chairman Sen. C. Scott Grow, R-Eagle, are cosponsors on the bill. They teamed up with House Speaker Rep. Mike Moyle, R-Star, and tax committee chairman Rep. Jason Monks, R-Meridian, to combine two earlier property tax bills.
Finally addressing property taxes
Constituents have been clamoring for Idaho lawmakers to address property taxes for years.
The first pot of money the bill would create is a school districts facilities fund, which would be divided and distributed to school districts based on student attendance.
The bill requires districts to use the money first for their existing bond and levy payments, which should reduce property taxes.
“Everything that is collected through your property taxes stays local,” Ricks said. “This is money coming from the state and sending it down to locals, to help property taxpayers.”
A report released by the Office of Performance Evaluations last January found a massive backlog of school facilities needs across the state.
“Some districts are able to pass bonds very easily, and others really struggle,” said Monks.
School districts without any bonds and levies could save the money to fund future construction and renovations. They could also use it to secure future construction bonds rather than going to voters.
“They have a funding source now – with a guaranteed revenue stream they can bond against – which will help them take care of their facility needs in the future,” Monks said. “It’s a good start.”
The second pot of money in the bill is a homeowner property tax relief account that would be distributed as a property tax credit to residents that qualify for the homeowners exemption.
The committee heard support for the bill from the Idaho Association of Counties, the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho, and the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry.
“I think this is a sea change, for the legislature to do something like this,” said IACI vice president John Eaton. “The long-term play here could be amazing for the state of Idaho.”
However, school districts are concerned about losing their ability to run ballot questions in March. Currently, districts are able to run bonds and levies on elections in March and August, as well as on the May primary and November general elections.
Dems look for a compromise; GOP says they have one
“We can deeply appreciate the meaningful attempt to provide property tax relief to your constituents,” Idaho School Boards Association deputy director Quinn Perry said, but they oppose losing the March election date.
According to Perry, approximately 90% of districts rely heavily on the March election because of where it falls in their budgeting cycle.
“May is the next best election, but it gives us a very short window to negotiate with staff,” Perry said.
If lawmakers are dead set on removing one of those school election dates, Perry said, the education community would be willing to give up the election date in August instead.
Sen. Ali Rabe, D-Boise, moved to send the bill for amendments to make that change.
“It removes one of very few options that districts have,” said Sen. Rick Just, D-Boise.
Just like in the bill’s introductory hearing before the House Revenue & Taxation Committee, Republicans shot down the attempt to swap the March election for August.
“A lot of time, people don’t even know about the March election. You get a lower turnout,” Ricks said.
Ricks and Grow said the push to remove the election date originated with House members, but the Senate members are on board with the move as part of their negotiations to draft the bill.
“The March election was the important one for them, and we’ve agreed to stick with that,” Ricks said.
Grow pointed out that the House has already passed a bill – which is slated for amendments in the Senate – to remove both the March and August school election dates. He said that removing only the March date is the compromise between the chambers.
“If I had my way, I would move us to just the two in May and November,” Monks said.
The bill moves to the full Senate, and if approved there, needs the governor’s signature to become law.
Logan Finney | Associate Producer
Logan Finney is a North Idaho native with a passion for media production and boring government meetings. He grew up skiing, hunting and hiking in the mountains of Bonner County and has maintained a lifelong interest in the state’s geography, history and politics. Logan joined the Idaho Reports team in 2020 as a legislative session intern and stayed to cover the COVID-19 pandemic. He was hired as an associate producer in 2021 and they haven’t been able to get rid of him since.