Voices from the Idaho EdNews Community

“You can’t handle the truth!”


That famous line from the movie A Few Good Men summarizes a fiscal truth in Idaho that the legislature refuses to acknowledge or is incapable of handling: The Idaho Legislature has been committing fiscal malpractice for decades – at your expense.

 But don’t take my word for it. Here are the latest numbers from the 2023 Fiscal Facts book published by Idaho’s Legislative Services Organization (LSO), documenting the estimated amount of sales tax revenue the legislature excluded from collection in each of the last three years:

  • 2021: $4.6 billion
  • 2022: $5.0 billion
  • 2023: $5.2 billion!

Their analysis goes back much further. In fact, the legislature has excluded over $47.6 billion from revenue collection since 2012. If only 10% of those cumulative exclusions had expired due to obsolescence or could no longer be justified, the state would have had the revenue for several of its financial responsibilities –which we still have to pay for:

  • Over $1 billion in deferred or ignored K-12 public school building facilities and maintenance.
  • Over $500 million in basic road and bridge maintenance (and more for new construction).
  • Over $500 million for a new state prison.
  • Millions of dollars to provide vital services for a rapidly growing – and aging – population

The following pie charts put the magnitude of these tax breaks in perspective. The chart on the left shows the current 2023 budgets for key functional areas based on the $4.6 billion in revenue the legislature chose to collect. The chart on the right adds the additional $5.2 billion in sales tax revenue into the pie chart that the legislature chose not to collect – more than the entire 2023 budget!

 This doesn’t mean that these sales tax exclusions are wrong or bad. Most of them may be justifiable and should remain in place. What is wrong and bad is this:

  • They are never reviewed.
  • They never expire (some have been in place since the 1960’s).
  • There is no objective criteria for determining if a sales tax exclusion is a net long term benefit to the citizen of Idaho or has become a gift to the recipient over time.

Consider this: if a review process determined that only 20% of current sales tax exemptions are obsolete or no longer make business sense, over $1 billion would have been added to the general fund last year! We’d have the revenue now – and going forward – to meet the state’s responsibility to adequately fund education, infrastructure and vital services.

And your property taxes would go down. School districts wouldn’t have to float bonds and levies nearly every year to hire enough teachers to keep classes sizes below 40 students or keep the roof from falling in on their heads.

Even if a review process determined that only 5% of sales tax exclusions should expire, that alone would make an additional $250 million available for schools each year – over $1 billion every four years.

There are several reasons this issue continues being ignored:

  • There is an army of lobbyists in the Capitol to protect their tax breaks.
  • When every member of the legislature is up for re-election every two years, it is very difficult to address long-term problems, especially tax policy.
  • Legislators are afraid of being attacked for “raising taxes”, even if a tax break no longer makes sense.

If Idaho is going to adequately provide for its fiscal future, we’re going to need a few good men – and women – in the Legislature and the executive branch to acknowledge, address and reduce this growing burden on ourselves – and our children.

Rep. Steven Berch

Rep. Steven Berch

Rep. Steve Berch is serving his third term in the Idaho House, representing District 15. He sits on the Education, Business, Local Government and Joint Legislative Oversight committees.

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