As we now cast our eyes to the soon-to-convene 2021 legislative session, we behold a marvelous and perhaps generational opportunity for lawmakers to boldly provide sweeping tax relief for Idaho families and small businesses. But will they?
Idaho is loaded with cash. Consider that officials believe the state will end its fiscal year with a budget surplus in excess of $603 million. That’s a truckload of moola. There’s more. Consider that lawmakers have at their disposal another $180 million in internet sales tax cash, which is a mix of one-time cash and ongoing revenue.
Additionally, Gov. Brad Little has a promise to keep. Little has, at least in rhetoric, been a champion of grocery tax repeal. But words mean nothing without action. So far, the governor hasn’t kept his promise to repeal this onerous tax.
Little has made mention of repeal a few times during his first term but ultimately has let House Speaker Scott Bedke and House Majority Leader Mike Moyle win the political battle on this one. Bedke and Moyle have successfully bullied the governor into submission two years running. Let’s hope the governor finds his spine and stands up to them and for us. Little needs to remember that he’s up for re-election in about 18 months, and conservative voters very much want to kick the grocery tax to the curb.
Finally, officials need to read the room and understand what Idahoans need as the pandemic continues to wreak havoc on the country. Instead of another aid program that will inevitably be plagued with waste and abuse, lawmakers ought to simply let Gem State residents keep more of the money they earn. That way Idahoans who work will reap their just rewards, and those who don’t won’t get free cash from the state.
There’s a real danger in Idaho’s wealth, though. There are 105 lawmakers and at least a similar number of tax relief plans on the table. Should lawmakers repeal the grocery sales tax so families pay less at the register? Or should legislators cut the income tax, which would help those who are willing to work hard to put food on the table? Or should officials finally do something about the pesky property taxes whose growth never seems to slow?
Or, perhaps, legislators can do something bold and fix all three. If the revenue projections hold, there’s a very real chance the Legislature could cut income and property taxes and also end the grocery tax in one fell swoop.
Infighting between legislative leaders has stalled tax relief for the past few years and Idahoans have, quite literally, paid the price. If there ever were a year for lawmakers to find some humility to negotiate for the good of Idahoans, 2021 is it. Idaho families and small businesses are scrapping and scrimping to make it through the COVID-19 recession.
Lawmakers must find a way to ease the state’s tax burden and make life that much easier for taxpayers. At a minimum for me, repeal of the grocery sales tax is a must. Anything less would be an absolute failure and a broken promise by Gov. Little.