Statehouse roundup, 2.2.17: House passes $51 million tax cut

The Idaho House voted along party lines to pass a $51.2 million tax cut bill Thursday morning.

Sponsored by House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, House Bill 67 would reduce corporate and the highest individual income tax rates from 7.4 percent to 7.2 percent. The bill would also exempt the first $750 of individual income Idaho residents pay income taxes on.

The House passed the bill, 58-11, after a 50-minute debate.

Republicans argued that the bill would provide much-needed tax relief to all Idahoans, while Democrats argued the tax cut would be more expensive than advertised and jeopardize the state’s ability to meet funding obligations for public schools and transportation.

“When people and businesses look to settle or bring their business (into a new state), they look at things like taxes,” Moyle said. “One of the first things they look at is the income tax rate.”

Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, argued against the tax cut. Between unexpected student enrollment growth that may add $8 million to this year’s education budget and a higher education task force that is just about to get to work, Rubel said the state needs to make sure it can meet its basic obligations before cutting taxes.

“I feel like on education we’ve been out to sea after the recession and we’re finally at the point where we can see land on the horizon,” Rubel said. “This bill proposes we chop up our boat for firewood before we get to shore.”

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Moyle argued the choice between cutting taxes or supporting education and teacher pay was a false dilemma.

“Education is still my top priority, and I’m sure it is yours,” Moyle said.

In backing the tax cut, Rep. Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth, said it is important for him to remember a campaign promise he made to voters.

“I promised I would try to keep government growing slower than the economy,” Kerby said.

The bill next heads to the Senate for consideration, and is likely to go to the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee.

Over the past two or three sessions, the Senate has been reluctant to embrace tax cuts, choosing instead to favor investments in public schools and teacher pay.

Teacher training programs

The House Education Committee voted to introduce a bill Thursday specifying how the state will measure the skills of teachers in training.

The one-page bill adds just one sentence to existing laws governing teacher preparation programs at the state’s colleges and universities. The new language specifies that colleges and universities may use “multiple measures, in alignment with best practices, for the demonstration of these skills.”

State Board of Education spokesman Blake Youde said the change is necessary to clarify that multiple measures would be used, not a single, high-stakes test or measure.

The committee’s vote clears the way for the bill to return to House Education for a full hearing.

Also Thursday, House Education Chairwoman Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree, said the committee would likely hold a hearing on proposed new academic standards, including proposed science standards, on Feb. 10. House Education typically meets at 9 a.m., but the Feb. 10 agenda likely will not be posted until next week.