The Senate Commerce Committee Tuesday unanimously approved legislation that would fund “opportunity grants” for local communities across the state. The bill, according to the head of the Idaho Department of Commerce (IDOC), is intended to attract and retain new businesses to the state.
“This has been a year’s worth of work, noted Jeff Sayer, director of the Idaho Department of Commerce, as he testified in favor of House Bill 100. “This bill elevates the process we go through to extend grants.”
The bill, already passed in the House 59 to 8, would fund $3 million worth of grants to Idaho cities, which are to be used for infrastructure enhancements. Local governments have to invest their own funds to take advantage of the plan, a point that Sayer noted to the committee. “This requires a community match,” Sayer stated. “We want their skin in the game, as we bring ours.”
“This may sound like an obnoxious question, but I don’t mean it to be,” Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise, said to Sayer. “This morning you argued before the House Revenue and Taxation Committee in favor of eliminating the state’s personal business property tax, and now you’re arguing before us in favor of spending $3 million. What is the message that we are to perceive coming from your office: Is it to fund tax cuts, is it to fund a new program?”
“From our standpoint, in a perfect world it would be nice to have both,” Sayer replied. “We will be advocating for the tools we need to recruit businesses. Lower taxes will get businesses interested in Idaho. This bill plays a unique role to enable us to close the deal with businesses to move here and expand.”
In opposition to the grant program was Wayne Hoffman, executive director of the Idaho Freedom Foundation. “We have communicated with many of the states’ business owners and entrepreneurs,” he said. “They want low taxes, they want limited regulation, they want the things that free them up to be entrepreneurial.”
“Does your organization support economic development?” Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, asked Hoffman.
“We love economic development, but there is a right way and a wrong way of getting there,” Hoffman replied. “This bill allows government to choose winners and losers in the economy by rewarding companies that garner the favor of local government officials.”
Hoffman also noted that the bill would allow state inspection of all records of a business that may enter into an agreement under the processes provided in the bill. “I can’t think of any other program of our state government that allows for this,” he told the committee.
“Rather than just throwing money at development programs like we have in the past, I believe this bill sets appropriate parameters and benchmarks,” Durst noted after Hoffman’s testimony.
Note: IdahoReporter.com is published by the Idaho Freedom Foundation.
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