A handful of Idaho House Republicans said this week their body will pass a tax cut, a defiant message after Gov. Butch Otter declined to include tax relief in his plans for the 2016 legislative session.
On Tuesday, House Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane, R-Nampa, told IdahoReporter.com that Republicans will likely pass a tax cut in 2016 -- at least in their chamber.
“I’m extremely optimistic it will pass the House of Representatives,” Crane said. “I cannot promise the Senate will pass it and the governor will sign it.”
The assistant majority leader didn’t offer details as to what plan Republicans would consider. During the 2015 session, the House passed legislation to cut the personal income tax and end Idaho’s grocery tax, while also hiking the gas tax to fund road repairs.
That plan arrived dead on arrival in the Senate, which tried to foist a $127 million gas tax and registration fee hike on Idaho drivers. Eventually, a joint committee settled on a $95 million tax and fee hike, but no tax cuts, which was enacted into law.
That deal will motivate some Republicans, Crane explained, to ease the tax burden on Idahoans in 2016, an election year.
“How are we going to take care of the taxpayer?” Crane asked. “You had a $100 million tax hike last year and [Otter offered] no relief” in 2016.
Crane does not stand alone in his discontent with the governor’s unwillingness to cut taxes. Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls, also pledged some sort of tax relief in the coming weeks.
“There will be tax reduction this session, one way or the other,” Thompson said.
Thompson, who voted for last year’s tax and fee hike, said higher revenues in 2016 create a “perfect opportunity” for legislators to make Idaho more competitive with surrounding states in terms of tax policy.
Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, knocked the governor not for the lack of proposed tax relief, but rather for not finding a middle ground between new spending and tax reductions. Chaney said the sole focus on education left him wanting.
“At first blush, it certainly appears there is room [for new education spending and tax cuts],” he said.
Chaney is a key voice on tax issues. As a member of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, his vote -- along with those of his colleagues -- could ultimately determine how much Idahoans pay in taxes in 2017 and beyond.
He didn’t promise a tax cut, but suggested he’s bothered that Otter didn’t offer relief to Idaho taxpayers after the 2015 money grab in the tax-and-fee hike legislation.
“It’s a little daunting to be shown a full list of spending priorities after that happens,” Chaney said.
Otter’s proposed state budget would increase overall spending by a whopping 8.5 percent, and adds more than $116 million to school spending. Otter’s education budget calls for nearly $40 million in teacher pay hikes, along with $10 million to fund new computers, tablets and other tech equipment for classrooms.
Rep. Ryan Kirby, R-New Plymouth, offered his support for a tax cut, too.
“Because the economy is growing right now, I would have loved to have seen maybe a little income tax cut, or some kind of a little tax cut,” he said. “[Otter] put a lot of money out there.”
Kirby, a former school district superintendent, was less certain of the chance for a tax cut during the 2016 session.
“A lot of us would like a tax cut, and I’m one of them,” he said. “But there are a lot of players.”