Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Property tax bills widen party gap

Jaquet, Stennett blast Republican plan


By STEVE BENSON
Express Staff Writer

Sen. Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum, discusses why he thinks the Democrat?s solution to runaway property taxes will help homeowners more than the Republican?s plan during a town meeting last Thursday in Hailey. Photo by David N. Seelig

A Republican plan to provide property tax relief to Idaho's citizens is flawed and may not apply to Blaine County homeowners, according to Rep. Wendy Jaquet and Sen. Clint Stennett, who presented the Democrats' plan to the local citizens last Thursday in Hailey.

Jaquet and Stennett, both Democrats from Ketchum, claim a Republican plan will increase the state sales tax, ignore those in the most dire need of relief and benefit special interests, such as real estate investors and owners of commercial and agricultural land. Those groups have not been subjected to the same meteoric rise in property taxes as residential homeowners.

Blaine County's property taxes shot up 18 percent this year and 21 percent in 2005.

"We're upset, but we're not going crazy like they are up north right now," Jaquet said Thursday.

Property taxes in Bonner County, located in the Idaho panhandle, rose an astounding 60 percent this year, prompting massive protests.

Jaquet, who's been fighting for property tax reform in the state Legislature for 15 years, said the magnitude of the situation has finally caught the attention of the majority party.

"There are now other communities" that are being hit hard by property taxes, Jaquet said. "It's no longer just Blaine County. There are 14 hot spots across the state with hyper-inflation values."

"It's not out of whack with what everyone else is paying," Stennett added.

Idaho Gov. Jim Risch has called for a special session in the Idaho Legislature to examine the issue. It has been tentatively scheduled for Aug. 25.

Jaquet said the Republican plan will probably be approved for the November 2006 ballot in the special session, but the Democrats, who are currently hosting meetings across the state to educate citizens on the issue, will reintroduce their bill again in January when the Legislature reconvenes.

She added that it's not too late to write the governor "and tell him our bill is better.

"It's more targeted and seems more fiscally prudent," she said.

The Democrats' bill would use half of the state's $200 million budget surplus to cover taxes that residential homeowners currently pay to fund school maintenance and operation costs, without raising the state's 5 percent sales tax or impacting schools. It would result in a 20 percent decrease in property taxes for residential homeowners and not apply to commercial, agricultural or investment property owners.

"I commend you guys," Jerry Brady, Democratic candidate for Idaho governor, told Stennett and Jaquet during Thursday's meeting. "I endorse the plan. It goes after the people who really need relief, and it protects schools. Those two are paramount to me."

Jim Lewis, Blaine County School District superintendent, warned that the Republican plan would put "Idaho up for sale" since reduced taxes on investment properties would encourage real estate prospectors to purchase large tracts of land in Idaho.

"Suddenly that puts us right back to paying more on property taxes," Lewis said.

"He's recognized as a leader in the state, and I respect his judgement," Brady said about Lewis on Friday.

While teachers recognize the need for property tax relief, they're frustrated over the timing since it will coincide with an initiative—known as Proposition 1—to raise the state's sales tax by 1 percent to benefit education. Both will be presented on the November 2006 ballot.

"It's just really sad," said Ellen Noble, a teacher at Hemingway Elementary School in Ketchum. "Teachers have been working really hard to put Proposition 1 on the ballot, and this will only confuse people."

To send comments about either plan to Gov. Risch, visit http://gov.idaho.gov/ourgov/contact.html.




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