Life of pie? Senate panel OK’s tax cut

It could be the Mom and banana crème pie bill.

On Thursday afternoon, the Senate Local Government and Taxation put a quick — and unanimous — stamp of approval on a bill to cut $20 million in personal property taxes on business equipment and supplies.

This bill, supported by the Idaho School Boards Association and the Idaho Association of School Administrators, now goes to the Senate floor. Since House Bill 315 has already passed the House, Senate support would put the bill on Gov. Butch Otter’s desk.

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Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton

The committee spent a little over half an hour considering the bill, and one of the issues that has loomed over the 74-day  legislative session. Before senators voted to endorse the bill, with little discussion, committee Chairman Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, admonished speakers to make their points quickly — jokingly telling them that their testimony was keeping senators from the banana crème pie and coconut crème pie that awaited them for a late afternoon snack.

The testimony, such as it was, was one-sided, and pretty much a repeat of what the House Revenue and Taxation Committee heard two days earlier. Speakers representing cities, counties and education groups hailed HB 315 as a skillful balance. They pointed out that the partial repeal would eliminate the unpopular personal property tax for 90 percent of Idaho businesses, while leaving local services unharmed.

“This bill protects schools from the fiscally devastating consequences of full repeal,” said Jessica Harrison of the ISBA.

Thursday’s testimony featured one plot twist — one that signals the shifting tide of the personal property tax politics. Caroline Merritt of the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce testified in favor of HB 315. Nine days earlier, the Boise chamber testified in favor of a full repeal of the tax, a $120 million tax cut engineered by the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, a business lobbying group.

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The Boise chamber still supports a full repeal, Merritt said, but now sees HB 315 as a first step.

School groups have steadfastly favored a partial repeal, saying it better protects short- and long-term education funding.

While HB 315 carries a price tag of $20 million, public schools and other local governments would receive full reimbursement from state sales taxes.

Because HB 315 only partially repeals the tax, it minimizes the property tax shift from business equipment to homes, farms and other real property. School officials fear a wholesale tax shift would make it more difficult to for districts to pass future levies and bond issues.

HB 315 has moved swiftly through the legislative process. It was introduced in the  House Ways and Means Committee Monday, and was approved by the House Tuesday on a bipartisan 67-2 vote.

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