Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Making progress on the plan

by SEN. JIM WOODWARD Contributing Writer
| February 6, 2022 1:00 AM

A few weeks ago, I provided an outline of Gov. Brad Little’s budget and policy proposals for the 2022 legislative session.

We are now one month into the session and making great progress. In the last two weeks, significant tax relief and a major investment in our public school system have passed through both bodies of the Idaho Legislature.

In the coming weeks, we will focus on infrastructure improvements. The transportation proposal includes $200 million in new road maintenance funding split 60/40 between the Idaho Transportation Department and local government entities. In addition, we anticipate funding another $200 million for local bridges across the state. Rural water and sewer districts will have a great opportunity to take on otherwise unaffordable capital projects with $450 million in grant funding that will be authorized this year for use through 2026. These are just some examples of the long-term investments we are making in Idaho, all of which will have an effect in our rural communities.

The tax relief package now signed into law has two components. First, a portion of the $1.9 billion of tax revenue that was above last year’s budget forecast is being returned to the taxpayers of Idaho as a one-time refund. Last year, people received checks that were 9% of their 2019 tax payment.

This year, Idaho taxpayers will receive a refund that is 12% of their 2020 tax payment. If an Idahoan paid $1,000 in 2020 taxes, they will receive a refund check for $120. To determine your refund amount, look at Line 20 of your 2020 Idaho Form 40. You will receive 12% of that amount or a minimum of $75.

The eternal challenge in taxation is fairness. The program returns the money to those who provided it. The refund is less than one-fifth of the $1.9 billion. The Idaho approach says that we invest in our future, as described above, save for a rainy day, and, in this case, return some of the money to its source.

The second part of the tax relief package is an ongoing income tax rate reduction. Idaho income tax is currently at 6.5% for income over $5,000. For tax year 2022 and forward, the income tax rate will be 6% for income over $5,000. The rates are lower for income less than $5,000.

We all want to minimize our taxes, but I am wary of any further reductions in the income tax rate. We have moved, in three steps, from a rate of 7.4% to 6% in the last five years. High population growth and prosperous economic times provide strong tax revenues, but we shouldn’t fall behind in adequate funding of state government functions. No one likes to sit in traffic wasting their time, and no one wants to hear their child is in an overcrowded school classroom not being provided the education they need.

This week we passed public school employee healthcare legislation. The legislation is the first step in adding $105 million annually to the school budget to bring teacher healthcare funding on par with state employees. A benefit of fully funding teacher healthcare with state funds is the opportunity to reduce the use of supplemental property tax levies. I was proud to sponsor the legislation in the Senate and look forward to finishing the job in a few weeks with the funding bills.

I normally stick with policy discussions in these updates. If you are a political observer, you may have noticed I’ve been in the headlines a few times recently. I attribute that coverage to stances I’ve taken in preserving the Idaho we all know and appreciate. I am not trying to change Idaho. I work daily to keep in place the Idaho I grew up in and the Idaho I intend to remain in.

Sen. Jim Woodward represents District 1, Bonner and Boundary counties, in the Idaho Senate. He can be reached at jwoodward@senate.idaho.gov.