Tax Policy Gets Heated 

While we wait for the races for governor or Congress to begin, the backers of ballot initiatives aren't sitting around. The first media buy of the season came, oddly enough, from the group pushing for an increase in sales tax to help fund Idaho schools. Last week the Invest in Our Kids Campaign announced it had a radio ad up and running, and they weren't shy to target Republican Gov. Jim Risch, who has a one-day special session slated for Aug. 25, to discuss his property tax legislation. Their ad (and new ones starting this week) call Risch's proposal, which decouples the property tax bill from the school maintenance and operations levy and makes up the difference with sales tax and state surplus cash, a bad idea.

"Somebody's got to do it," said Ryan Hill, a spokesman for the group.

Democrats have been pushing an alternate proposal that targets only homeowners with property tax relief, but they're not getting anywhere with Risch, who said it won't fly in a Republican-dominated House. When she sent a letter with concerns to House Speaker Bruce Newcomb on the matter, House Minority Leader Wendy Jaquet got a note back saying they were welcome to try and amend the one bill Risch wants to discuss, but nothing more. Newcomb told Jaquet, "I understand where the Democrats are coming from, this is an election year, and it presents an opportunity to play politics."

Now they've got help with their game: An economist with the University of Idaho has released a report that casts doubt on Risch's plan.

In short, said UI's Stephen Cooke, the Risch plan will shift taxes off of business, lump more sales tax onto low-income renters and ultimately cost homeowners more.

"It's being touted as tax relief for taxpayers," Cooke said. "That's not what this is."

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