HB579 would be a disasterPosted Wednesday, March 19, 2008, at 9:43 AM
A legislative proposal, sponsored in part by Rep. Rich Wills of Glenns Ferry, to allow voters to reduce property taxes may sound like a good idea, but is ill-considered and would be a disaster to local government.
There isn't a property taxpayer in this state that wouldn't like to see a reduction in their taxes. The question is, how much do they want to see a reduction in the services those governments provide?
The problem is less one of taxes, than rising assessments. The "housing boom" over the last 10 years (until its recent collapse), drove assessments through the roof. In places like McCall, for example, assessments rose by a factor of 10 or more. Even in Elmore County, the way state laws require county assessors to make assessments on property has seen significant increases in tax assessments (especially in the Pine-Featherville area). Freezing assessments to the value of a home at the time it is purchased would probably do more for taxpayers than anything else (although that also has some problems).
The state already has limits on how much a local government entity can increase its budget from one year to the next. That 3 percent cap is often below the percentage increase in assessments and has been a burden to many local governments coping with rapid growth in their areas, since growth requires additional government infrastructure (roads, schools, police, etc.) and the cap means many governments simply can't capture the revenue from all the extra growth needed to pay for the extra services.
Many local governments already are hard-pressed to meet the demands of its citizens for services. But a blind taxpayer revolt, which would be allowed by Wills' proposal, could cripple them.
If you assume that true tax relief would have to be at least $100 a year in property taxes, consider what a cut like that would mean for the existing Mountain Home city budget. Overall, that would represent pretty much the entire budget for say, the police department, or the parks and recreation department, or the streets department, or the library. Which one would you cut? Try it some time. Pull the city or county budget and find half a million dollars in cuts that you'd make.
Like other ill-advised tax relief measures in the past, this is a near-sighted politically expedient band-aid approach to a problem that doesn't address the consequences of the "solution."
There are plenty of procedures in place at present to make an impact on property taxes, but almost no one takes advantage of them. All local governments hold public work sessions and budget hearings at which time the public can make their views known about specific programs they would like to see cut or eliminated, which would ultimately result in a tax cut. But almost no one ever goes to them, and those who demand a reduction in taxes, when handed a budget and asked what they would cut, usually can't come up with enough items to make any significant reduction. Because most services provided by local government are not only needed, but demanded.
And, of course, there are the elections for elected officials. If you think elected officials are throwing away your money, toss them out and elect someone who'll be fiscally more conservative (although it's our experience that "tax cutters" rarely actually do so when confronted with the realities of a budget).
This measure isn't the solution, but would merely add to the problems of local governments. It should be rejected for what it is, a ploy to look good to voters but an unrealistic solution. Politics at its worst.
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