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Tax day means higher taxes for Idaho’s working poor

Tax day means higher taxes for Idaho’s working poor

Wayne Hoffman
April 15, 2016

On this national tax day, a puzzle: Some state lawmakers are vehement about helping low-income people who have no health insurance. However, some of those same legislators oppose letting those low-income Idahoans keep more of what they've earned -- which would help them to afford insurance coverage.

Several days ago, Rep. Paul Romrell, R-St. Anthony, told his constituents he just couldn't bear to vote for a tax cut because the Legislature had not voted to help the so-called “gap population.” The gap population consists of the people who earn too much to receive Medicaid assistance and too little to qualify for Obamacare subsidies.

During the recent legislative session, “There were only three of us Republicans who voted against a tax cut,” Romrell told the audience. “And I knew that would haunt me back home, but I would do it again.”

More important than a tax reduction, Romrell argued, is for the state is to extend government health coverage to the working poor.

“I would have hated to have voted for a tax cut and come home, and had that gap population out there in trouble,” Romrell explained.

Yet, in 2015, Romrell and most of his colleagues also raised taxes on the gap population. That is, he and his colleagues voted for a gas-tax and registration-fee hike, which took money from low-income people, money they could have used to better afford health insurance and health care.

Romrell knows there is no break at the pump for people who can’t afford health insurance any more than they can afford the gas-tax hike he voted for in 2015. And there is no registration-fee exemption at the DMV for folks who can’t get an Obamacare subsidy. The vehicle registration fees that Romrell supported in 2015 went up for everyone, not just the insurance-card-carrying wealthy with BMWs.

The pain Romrell inflicted in 2015 at the gas pump and at the car-registration counter could have been ameliorated by a tax-rate reduction this year. But, he and his two Republican colleagues, Reps. Maxine Bell and Marc Gibbs, opposed such a reduction, which would have benefited many Idahoans, including those in the gap group.

Remember, Idaho’s 7.4 percent top income-tax bracket is the highest in the Intermountain region. More importantly, that top tax rate isn’t for rich people. That top marginal income-tax rate kicks in for people who earn just less than $11,000. To repeat, the wealthy Idahoans who earn near $11,000 pay the highest income-tax rate in the region.  

Romrell knows that people in the gap pay taxes and, yes, he and his gap-population-worried colleagues could have provided them relief by lessening their tax burden. That would have also helped their employers. And the people who from whom they buy groceries, clothing and other consumer goods, and from whom they get housing.

Undoubtedly Romrell wants to help people. However, by raising taxes on the most vulnerable Idahoans, then refusing to reduce the state’s significant tax burden on them, Romrell dealt them a great deal of harm. If the people in the insurance gap find themselves struggling a little more, paying a little more in taxes and fees, and working a bit harder to make ends meet, they should question how their legislators contribute to their burdens.

Romrell is correct on one point: A number of Idahoans are in trouble. They're our friends, family, neighbors and co-workers. And Romrell and his colleagues helped put them there.

On this tax day, most Idahoans are looking for some relief, not another government program and not another handout. They just want what Idahoans have always wanted, to not be taxed to death and to be allowed to keep more of what they've already earned. That’s not to much to ask.

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