Capitol Reflections: 2023 Session, Issue 9
By: Idaho Farm Bureau Governmental Affairs
Lava Ridge Resolution Advances
The House Energy, Environment, and Technology Committee held a hearing this week where it heard from representatives of Magic Valley Energy, the company that is proposing the Lava Ridge Wind Project in the Magic Valley. Experts and specialists hired by the company gave testimony regarding the project’s design and intended minimal impacts on the landscape and resources. Company officials also highlighted the potential economic benefits that would result because of the project. Nonetheless, the Committee and the majority of those present in the audience were not convinced.
The Committee heard testimony from the public for nearly an hour with very few individuals actually expressing support for the project. Most everyone that testified in person and virtually, shared their concern and opposition to the project. Based on comments during the hearing, there are still major worries about how the project will impact everything from wildlife migration patterns, rangeland fire response, livestock grazing, aerial applicators, water resources including the ESPA, road expansions, and traffic, amongst other issues.
Ultimately, the Committee unanimously decided to advance HCR4 which is the resolution sponsored by all Magic Valley Legislators expressing opposition and concern with the proposed project. Additionally, the resolution requests the Governor and Attorney General to take what legal actions are available to encourage the BLM to select the no-build option. HCR4 will next be considered and voted on by the full House.
Farm Bureau policy supports the development of cost-effective forms of alternative energy production; however, our policy also supports counties in the locating and siting of these projects. All of the County Farm Bureaus located within the boundaries of the proposed Lava Ridge Project have opposed its plans. IFBF supports the positions of the County Farm Bureaus, and thus agrees with HCR4.
For those interested in providing input during the Federal Agency public comment period for this project, please visit the following website for more information: EplanningUi (blm.gov)
It was recently announced that the comment period would be extended for an additional 30 days and will now remain open until April 20, 2023. Remember to focus your comments on one or more of the points in the alternatives discussed in the draft EIS. General comments in support or opposition will not be considered by BLM. If you would like to comment and need some assistance on how to provide effective comments, please contact Braden Jensen at the Boise office and he will provide some guidance.
Long Awaited Property Tax Relief Bill Introduced
This week the House Revenue and Taxation Committee introduced arguably the most anticipated bill of the session. H292 combines elements of a couple of the property tax relief bills that were introduced early in the session to get the conversation started.
After a lot of negotiating, it appears the House and Senate leadership are all on board with H292, which will provide significant property tax relief for Idaho homeowners, moderate relief for the rest of Idaho property taxpayers, and importantly, will do so without any property tax shifts.
In a nutshell, this is what H292 does: 1. It provides between $200 and $300 million in ongoing property tax relief beginning in December 2023. This amount fluctuates each year based upon some of the funding features that will be discussed below. However, it will be roughly between $200 to $300 million each year initially, with the ability to increase over time.
- Roughly 2/3 of the money is directed specifically to homeowners and will appear as a credit on their annual property tax bills. This will provide direct property tax relief without causing any shift in taxes to other property taxpayers.
- The remaining 1/3 of the state money that is set aside for property tax relief is allocated to every school district across the state based upon their average daily attendance. The money must first be used to pay any current school bond payments. If money remains, the money must then be used to pay any school levy payments. If any money remains, it must be set aside for future building needs and can be bonded against, which will reduce the need to go to the voters for a bond in the future. The amount of money received by schools must be deducted from the amount they collect from taxpayers. This will provide property tax relief across the board for all property taxpayers within the school district, including farms.
H292 is funded in the following manner. First, it earmarks 4.5% of Idaho’s existing sales tax revenues for property tax relief. This will initially be about $122 million but will grow over time as the economy grows. It also utilizes $75 million of the current surplus for one-time relief. It sets up a “surplus eliminator” to sweep any additional funds received by the state each year that have not been appropriated into the tax relief fund. It also takes 20% of the sales taxes generated from online sales to put towards this tax relief program beginning in 2024. All funding comes from existing sources. No new taxes will be implemented to pay for this program.
H292 has the ability to provide some significant property tax relief to all Farm Bureau members. Every homeowner will see significant property tax reductions, probably somewhere around 20% of current property taxes, while all farms will also see an incremental tax reduction from the school bond and levy payments that state will begin to allocate money for.
The major victory for Farm Bureau in this package is there is NO increase in the homeowner’s exemption and there is NO shifting of taxes from one class of property to another. Farm Bureau appreciates the sponsors of H292, Rep Jason Monks (R-Meridian), Speaker Mike Moyle (R-Star), Senator Scott Grow (R Eagle) and Senator Doug Ricks (R-Rexburg), for recognizing the importance of not shifting taxes to provide property tax relief for one group at the expense of another group. Governor Little also made it clear in his state of the state address that he opposed any property tax shifting, which we appreciate.
H292 will now receive a full hearing in the House Revenue and Taxation Committee on Monday, March 13. IFBF policy #102 opposes increasing the Homeowner’s Exemption and shifting property taxes to ag lands. IFBF supports H292.
Rules Review Modernization Bill Advances
Farm Bureau members have been engaged in improving Idaho’s rule-making process for many years. Farm Bureau was one of the significant supporters of HJR5 in 2016, which successfully amended the Idaho Constitution to ensure that the legislature continued to exercise the authority to approve or reject all executive agency rules.
Our members believe it is vital that the legislature carefully review rules and ensure that any rules which are approved strictly conform to the underlying law which the rules are attempting to enforce. This is important in Idaho since administrative rules have the full force and effect of law. Therefore, these rules are just as legally binding on citizens as the laws that are passed by the legislature.
Since the Administrative Procedures Act was first approved back in 1965, which granted agencies the ability to propose and enforce rules, it has been amended multiple times in a convoluted and haphazard fashion. This has left kind of a “rat’s nest” where definitions and processes have, over time, become muddied and confusing, not only for citizens, but also for legislators and agency personnel. H206 does a very good job of simplifying and clarifying the current process.
H206 clarifies definitions to avoid duplication and overlap, more clearly articulates procedures and provides simplicity to the rulemaking approval process. It also requires agencies to provide an option for citizens to participate virtually in rulemaking procedures. Clear and simple procedures and definitions provide greater transparency and foster better understanding of the entire process. This will be a benefit for everyone, including the regulated stakeholders, legislators and agency personnel.
Finally, an important aspect of H206 is requiring rules be approved by concurrent resolution. This ensures that rules, which have the force and effect of law, are held to the same standard as laws when they are approved. Also, as spelled out in the Idaho Constitution, the Governor has no veto power when it comes to approving or rejecting rules. Since the Governor does not sign concurrent resolutions, this process complies with the Idaho Constitution. IFBF thanks the Sponsors of H206, Rep Vito Barbieri (R-Dalton Gardens) and Speaker of the House Mike Moyle (R-Star), for their diligent efforts in improving our current system of rulemaking. H206 has passed the House on a vote of 59-11 and is now awaiting a hearing in the Senate State Affairs Committee. IFBF policy # 156.5 supports H206.
March Special Meeting of IDFG Commission
The Idaho Fish and Game Commission will be holding their March Business Meeting in Boise on March 16th all day at the IDFG Headquarters. A public hearing where the public can provide comment to the Commission will be held the night before on the 15th starting at 7 pm at the IDFG office.
A significant portion of this business meeting is for the Commission to review suggestions to season settings and to vote to set these seasons for all different species. One specific season that the Commission will take up is Big Game Season, which includes hunting and trapping seasons for wolves in the state.
IFBF is in favor of the following proposed changes; opening more units in the state for year-round wolf hunting on public land (currently year-round hunting is available on all private ground). Also, setting a September 10th opening date for foot-hold trapping in many units that currently have a later start time across the state to allow for additional trapping opportunities. A reminder that foot-hold trapping is allowed on private property year-round since the passage of S1211 in 2021.
For all agenda items that the Commission will be discussing as well as the full suggested changes to wolf seasons click HERE
Bill to Empower Local Property Taxpayers Advances
This week, H273 was approved by the House and will now advance to the Senate for a hearing.
For years, citizens around the state have felt frustrated at their lack of meaningful opportunity to determine the amount of property taxes they must pay. This has led to increasing complaints asking the legislature “to do something about it.”
Unfortunately, there are limited options available at the state level to address local property taxes. The ideas that have been enacted over the years have only been band-aid approaches and have not provided long-term solutions.
H273 takes a new approach by providing a tool taxpayers can use at the local level when needed. What works for Burley may not be the best solution for Bonner’s Ferry. H273 allows citizens to use the currently existing local initiative/referendum process to reduce the property tax portion of the budget for a county or a city. This tool will allow local taxpayers to work together to enact a local solution tailored to local needs.
Both the Idaho Association of Counties and the Association of Idaho Cities testified against the bill during the hearing in committee. One of their main arguments was that the Idaho Supreme Court ruled in 1993 that the local initiative/referendum process cannot be used to reduce a county budget. However, what they fail to recognize is the court ruled based upon the law as it was written at that time. That is the entire purpose of H273, to change the law so that citizens can legally use this process to reduce local property tax budgets.
Other arguments raised in opposition included the challenges of providing services if budgets are limited, and citizens can already vote out officials that do not respond to their wishes. Ultimately, the committee, and the entire House we not persuaded by their arguments.
Some of our members have expressed they don’t think it will be necessary for this tool to be used that often. However, they firmly believe just having the tool will provide a more level playing field and lead to greater collaboration and communication between local elected officials and taxpayers.
H273 provides taxpayers with more leverage, helping them to negotiate with local elected officials in budget discussions from a position of strength. Currently, local officials are not obligated to act upon what taxpayers say at budget hearings. This leads to frustration and eventually citizens no longer attend, knowing they have no real power. When one side has all the power, there is no real collaboration, or negotiation.
Unfortunately, that is the reality under the current system. H273 will bring more fairness, engagement, and locally driven solutions to the property tax arena, empowering local taxpayers to address property tax issues at the local level when needed. IFBF policy #102 supports H273.
Idaho Farm Bureau Legislative Intern Program
My name is Courtney Beene, I am a current freshman student at the College of Southern Idaho and had the privilege of participating in the Idaho Farm Bureau Legislative Intern Program during this past week. I have grown up with Farm Bureau in my background, with my parents even meeting in their Young Farmers and Ranchers Chapter in California many years ago. When I heard about this opportunity from my agriculture teacher at CSI, I jumped into action and immediately asked for more information. I had some experience with Idaho legislation and the legislative process from my previous participation in the 4-H and FFA programs but was ready to come back since I knew I would have a better grasp of the legislative process and a better understanding of Farm Bureau at the state government level.
From the two days that I was an intern at the Capitol in Boise, Idaho, I gained many new experiences and agricultural connections. When I arrived on Tuesday morning, I was taken to a committee session to listen to the debates by Braden Jensen, the Idaho Farm Bureau Governmental Affairs Director. During my first couple of minutes being present, Braden Jensen commented to me, “This is a job with a lot of conversations,” which I truly did realize during the week. Later that day, I was able to sit in on the Senate and House floor sessions and learn about different bills that are currently working through the legislature. On Wednesday, I went to several committee sessions with the Farm Bureau Governmental Affairs staff and learned what Farm Bureau does to support or oppose a bill. I also attended the Food Producers of Idaho meeting and listened to their discussions on what bills they will take a stance on. I learned about several agricultural issues currently presenting themselves at the state level from this meeting. Talking to the Farm Bureau Governmental Affairs team consisting of Chyla Wilson, Braden Jensen, and Russ Hendricks at the Boise office, I learned about how Farm Bureau policies are implemented and how that affects whether Farm Bureau will take a stance on a bill. I met many senators and representatives, and organizations that have lobbyists at the Capitol as well.
Even though I was part of the younger crowd present, only being a college freshman, I felt very much at home and welcomed by the Farm Bureau staff and state legislators. I would recommend this internship to any Farm Bureau member. There are worthwhile experiences that can be gained by participating in this internship. I found that at the end of my two days, I was wishing I had more time so I could see more meetings and committee sessions and listen to the valuable information that lobbyists and legislators present at each one. To anyone questioning whether they should participate in the internship or not, this opportunity is very rewarding and worth the time! I would like to thank Idaho Farm Bureau for allowing me this incredible opportunity to be an intern at the Capitol this past week and the Farm Bureau Governmental Affairs team for their hospitality and willingness to host me.
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