Tax relief: Meet the New Otter, same as the Old Otter?

Wayne Hoffman Articles

Don’t ask anyone to guess what Gov. Butch Otter might propose in the way of tax policy for the 2017 legislative session. It depends on which Butch Otter is in charge.

In 2015, Otter proposed a feeble strategy for reducing the state’s top marginal income-tax rate from 7.4 to 6.9 percent over five years. Uninspiring. A punchline at dinner parties. But worse, it went unfulfilled by the guy who proposed it. Fight for it? Otter didn’t even offer a yawn for it.

Worse still, in January 2016 Otter didn’t even talk tax relief. Far from it. He dismissed the notion outright. His plan to lower the top tax rate? Gone from the playbook. Although the state was sitting on a substantial revenue surplus, Otter swore off tax relief. Instead, he insisted that every last dollar — and then some — be spent on an array of state programs. Otter declared, the age of tax relief was over. (At the recent state GOP convention, Otter glossed over his own 2015 proposed-and-passed tax increase, which cost Idahoans $95 million.)

But, comes new a new Otter, a different Otter. He days ago told the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce he’d like to see the state’s income-tax rate lowered to 5 percent. Such a decrease would put us on par with Utah. Wow. Words fail us. Is Gov. Otter angry at New Otter? Did the governor yell at the speech giver? New Otter may be serious about tax relief. But who knows which Butch Otter will prepare, let alone guide, the governor’s 2017 legislative agenda.

To be sure, one can hope New Otter hangs around and follows through on the task. Idaho’s top marginal income-tax rate is the highest in the intermountain region. And don’t let the liberals tell you that this is about cutting taxes for the rich. It’s not. That top marginal income-tax rate kicks in on people who make an adjusted gross income of about $11,000. Thus, this would be a tax cut for the working poor and middle-income residents of this state, who are hurt hard by this tax rate.

Further, basic conservative principles demand that people be allowed to benefit from the fruits of their labors. Government should endeavor to leave as much money as possible in the pockets of those who produce, money that can be saved, spent or invested as best determined by those who made it.

So far, there’s not a lot to indicate that New Otter is serious, or that Gov. Otter won’t wrest power from New Otter. For all we know, New Otter was given temporary grace to give a speech, not propose policy. With each passing year, Gov. Otter’s policies have become increasingly tilted to favor big government. In recent years, Gov. Otter, backed by the Legislature, has made Idaho the state with the highest general-fund spending increase of all 50 states.

Idahoans deserve to keep more of what they earn. New Otter claims to want to lower taxes in 2017. There’s only one person who stands in New Otter’s way, his greatest political adversary: Gov. Butch Otter.