BOISE – It was Aaron von Ehlinger’s show at the Idaho Legislature on Wednesday morning, as Lewiston’s representative had four bills to consider in the House and Senate.
Some details and discussion of the measures include:
LOW OF PRIORITIES – The House Revenue and Taxation Committee has rejected Representative von Ehlinger’s proposal to require a public vote on the use of public money for public art projects.
Almost half of the committee members wanted Bill 311 to be abolished. However, a superseding motion to amend the bill not only kept it all alive, but sent the committee’s measure back to the House. .
The bill requires a public hearing before local governments can spend taxpayer money on the design, construction, installation or purchase of any public art.
If the total cost of the project is less than $ 25,000, a two-thirds vote of the city council, county commissioners or relevant governing body is required. If the cost is $ 25,000 or more, a 60% public vote is required.
“I love art, I love artists and I have nothing against the art community,” said von Ehlinger. “But when government and hard-earned taxpayer dollars are involved, I think art has to be low on the priority list.”
Von Ehlinger noted that cities and counties regularly complain about limited budgets, saying they can’t afford to give up a dime in property tax revenue.
If that’s the case, he said, “then maybe they need to take a close look at some of the more frivolous areas where they spend taxpayer dollars. Whether we like it or not, art is not a vital service. “
Von Ehlinger cited several examples of what he considered wasted public spending, including the “Canoe Wave” sculpture in Lewiston.
“Some people might look at this and think it’s a post-hurricane scene in Louisiana,” he said. “It was suggested to sell it to Clarkston because it forms a ‘C.’ “
No one testified in favor of HB 311. Eight people testified in opposition, saying the legislation undermines local control and effectively stifles future public art projects. They said public art projects usually go through a thorough review process, with multiple public hearings and often online voting opportunities.
Rep. Jon Weber, of R-Rexburg, a former county commission, said the bill was “harsh and overblown by the state government.”
“As legislators, we are elected to legislate and take ownership,” he said, and the same is true of local government representatives.
“I’m sure the people we represent don’t always approve of the way we spend their money,” Weber said. “Yet in this situation (with public art), we want to reach out and tell local governments how they can spend the money?” It is not fair.”
Representative Linda Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, said public art offers multiple benefits to communities and the state.
“Life is not complete without art,” she says. “As a common sense Republican, I like local control and limited government. This (legislation) is not limited to government. Local communities are already asking for community input on projects and getting votes online. Our local leaders know what their people love. “
House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, clearly supported the measure, but acknowledged the committee could kill it. Therefore, he proposed to send it to the House for amendments. This motion was narrowly approved, which kept the bill alive for at least a few more days.
THE LEGACY IS ON YOU – The House Income and Taxation Committee has taken a more favorable view of legislation updating Idaho’s property tax deferral program.
Co-sponsored by von Ehlinger and Senator Scott Grow, R-Eagle, House Bill 309 aims to encourage greater use of the program, which allows the state to pay property taxes for some homeowners.
“The state puts a lien on the property and pays taxes for those who qualify,” Grow said. “It’s not a permanent expense. It is essentially a loan.
The bill proposes an initial state expenditure of $ 5 million. This money would be “loaned” to homeowners in the form of property tax payments, but would then be recovered when the house is sold or the applicant dies.
“The lien would be exercised and the amount paid by the state would be refunded,” said Grow, a retired accountant. “Ultimately, the (permanent) cost should be zero.”
The state would also earn a low interest rate on deferred taxes.
Qualified applicants include homeowners 65 years of age or older, widows and widowers, disabled veterans, and other disabled or blind people.
Grow noted that there is not much demand for the existing tax deferral program. This is partly because it charges a higher interest rate than allowed by HB 309 and has other restrictions.
He said people also prefer that the state “pay their property taxes as a gift, rather than access the equity in their home, because they want to pass that on as an inheritance to their children.”
The state currently pays about $ 20 million a year into the circuit breaker program, said Grow, which offers tax relief limited to the same people who qualify for the tax deferral program. The difference is that the funding for the circuit breakers comes entirely from taxpayers, while the deferral program costs taxpayers nothing beyond the initial investment of $ 5 million.
“It is not the taxpayer’s responsibility to create a legacy for your children,” he said.
The committee sent HB 309 upstairs to the House with a favorable recommendation.
BREAKER, BREAKER – The Revenue and Tax Committee postponed action on a second tax bill from Grow-von Ehlinger because time was running out.
House Bill 310 updates the circuit breaker program, increasing the maximum amount of property tax relief available from $ 1,320 per year to $ 1,500, and adding a standard $ 4,000 deduction for medical expenses when calculating claims. income limits.
In an effort to ensure that the benefit goes only to those who are really in need, the bill also imposes a new asset test.
“We know there are people who live in million dollar homes who benefit from the circuit breaker,” said von Ehlinger. “This is wrong. The state should not help people who live in such extravagant houses.”
The asset test only comes into play if the assessed value of a person’s home exceeds the county median. In these situations, applicants would only qualify for the breaker if the combined financial resources of all members of their household – including cash, stocks and bonds, vehicles and property – total $ 20,000 or less.
Gooding County Assessor Justin Baldwin said the figure was so low it would likely disqualify anyone who is currently receiving the breaker if their home’s value exceeds the county median.
“You put people in a situation where they have to sell their assets to pay their taxes,” he said. “As proposed, HB 310 would disqualify all former farmers, or anyone (with) a retirement plan.”
Baldwin also said the bill presents major administrative problems, as it does not specify who is responsible for calculating the value of assets or who pays for that work.
Baldwin was the only person who had time to testify on the bill. The committee will be resuming the bill this morning.
ISN’T THE FLU? – The Senate State Affairs Committee temporarily held von Ehlinger’s joint memorial condemning China for “crimes against humanity” and its “horribly irresponsible and deceptive handling of the COVID-19 epidemic.”
House Joint Memorial 1 also calls “Communist China” a “hostile state” and encourages Congress to sanction the government for its “misdeeds”.
“This memorial is about responsibility,” said von Ehlinger. “There is no denying that COVID-19 has turned the world upside down and killed a lot. … I think it’s important to send this to Congress and let them know exactly how Idaho feels.
Senator Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, agreed that China is an adversary and a threat to the United States. However, he wondered how the language of the joint memorial fitted in with the Republican Party’s “irresponsible” rhetoric regarding COVID-19 over the past year.
“I’m a little confused,” Burgoyne said. “We’ve been hearing for quite a long time that COVID-19 was no worse than the flu, that it’s not a problem, that the only problem is that my party made it a political problem. But now I see this resolution.
Among other statements, HJM 1 states that COVID-19 “has caused irreparable damage to countries around the world, causing disease, death, economic disruption and human suffering.”
He also notes that in Idaho “thousands of people have been infected (and) many have died.”
“I think this memorial highlights a lot of the issues we are having this session,” Burgoyne said. “It’s fair to say that there are members of this legislature who have put forward the idea that we need to ‘restore the balance of power’ between the executive and the legislature because the COVID-19 pandemic is not not a crisis, and that people like the governor invented it to seize power. Then we get a resolution like this, which says the rhetoric just isn’t true, this crisis is real, this pandemic is killing people. In this case, the governor responded appropriately. … thank goodness we have some truth here (in the common memorial).
Von Ehlinger noted that much of the language used in the memorial came from a report by the Department of Homeland Security. Several members of the committee wanted to see the report, so they voted to have the bill held in committee until the information was provided.