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Many issues on table for upcoming session

by SEN. JIM WOODWARD Contributing Writer
| January 2, 2022 1:00 AM

The 2022 legislative session starts on Monday, Jan. 10, with the Governor’s State of the State address, available online through Idaho Public Television. The annual address includes proposals for the legislative session. I expect budget proposals and debates will be significant this year as Idaho sales and income tax revenues are much greater than anticipated.

When looking at what to do with the Idaho tax funds, we must first ask where the excess revenues are coming from. If the tax revenues are due to population growth, we should invest in infrastructure to maintain our Idaho quality of life. If we are taxing at a rate that is generating more money than necessary, we should lower the tax rate. If we are seeing higher than normal sales tax collections because of federal money flowing into the state as a result of the pandemic response, we need to look at one-time obligation of those tax revenues because at some point that money stream will dry up.

Last year, with a much smaller pot of money to work with, we followed the Idaho way and struck a balance between transportation investments, rainy-day savings, and returning money to Idaho taxpayers. I am hopeful we can strike a similar balance this year, but with some different points of emphasis to include infrastructure and education.

In the 20 or more years after World War II, as a country, we built a great deal of infrastructure. Much of that infrastructure is at the end of its useful life. The funds available this year are a great opportunity to rebuild and improve our infrastructure, whether transportation, utilities, or public buildings. Our children will benefit from these investments.

The importance of an education system to the founders of this state is clearly visible in our Idaho Constitution. The Legislature is duty bound to the public schools of the state. One opportunity under consideration is funding of optional all-day kindergarten. Districts that currently offer all-day kindergarten are funding it from a variety of sources, including property taxes in some areas. Across the state, more than two-thirds of our school districts have made the local decision to offer all-day kindergarten. With that kind of consensus, it appears it is time to fund the program from the state level, remembering it is optional and a choice for parents.

While we are working to improve education in Idaho, there is simultaneously an effort to defund public education. Some try to overlay a controversial nationwide narrative about material being taught in school classrooms. I don’t think we have the same problem in Idaho, but there is certainly an effort to make that appearance. The teachers I know are long-time residents, many from logging, farming, and ranching families, and are as vested in traditional Idaho values as any. It may be a lucrative business model to make outlandish claims about our Idaho education system, but it is not the truth.

Moving away from the 2022 legislative session, I would like to provide a few updates. The Clark Fork /Pend Oreille River basin water adjudication is getting started. Notifications are going out in phases to all addresses in the basin. The water adjudication is a legal process to protect your existing water rights. As more people come to Idaho, the adjudication will become more important. Idaho water law says that “first in time is first in right.” The adjudication determines who is first in line, second in line, etc. If a dispute arises, you will not need to pay for a private lawsuit. There will already be a court determination of your water right. A completed adjudication also helps protect Idaho water from out of state interests. More information is available at https://idwr.idaho.gov/.

Many of the tax changes from the last session are in place. The homeowner’s property tax exemption is now $125,000. The “Circuit Breaker” property tax reduction program income limitation and the benefit amount are both higher to reflect inflation. Finally, important to many small business owners, the business personal property tax exemption is now $250,000 and transient business personal property is no longer taxed.

The last topic to touch on is legislative boundary redistricting. The redistricting commission has made its final recommendation. There are a number of court challenges to the plan by parties from across the state. Hopefully we will have an approved legislative district map in February which will allow the upcoming May primary elections to stay on schedule.

Thank you for the opportunity to represent our northern two counties in the Idaho Legislature. Please feel free to reach out with any questions or to share your thoughts.

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

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