Stephen Hartgen 01

Election day, Nov. 5, is almost upon us, but it is often “out of sight, out of mind” for many citizens. Who can blame them for not being tuned into politics 24-7-365?

Modern American news cycles hurl endless and often disconnected “facts” from all quarters. No human being can now keep up with this 4G and soon to be 5G barrage.

Yet, elections remain a chief way in which citizen steer public policies. A vote for or against any number of candidates and proposals regularly shakes out the public will.

This fall, there are important elections throughout the state. In Boise, long-time Mayor David Bieter is on the ballot again. It’s effectively a public referendum on his leadership and plans for sports stadium, light rail, trolleys and scads of public art and civic largesse. The Idaho Freedom Foundation says Bieter’s administration has wasted $144 million while local taxes continue to skyrocket. ( Sept. 6, 2019)

In Minidoka County, school officials want a $2.25 million supplemental levy (Times-News, Oct. 10, 2019). A $21 million proposal failed there in May, by wider margin than previously.

In Gooding County, a $16 million jail bond proposal is on the ballot. (Tines-News, Oct. 6,2019.)

In Twin Falls County, commissioners have been plugging a $25 million jail bond proposal, citing a cost of $25-$26 per year for each $100,000 in valuation. True enough, but a home or commercial building valued at $500,000 (which there are quite a few in Twin Falls County) would see an additional $2,000 in taxes over the 20-year bond. ($25/year/per $100,000 X 4 =$400,000 valuation (minus the first $100,000 in homeowners’ exemption) = $100/year X 20 years = $2000).

Commissioners note that on irrigated farm ground, the additional tax would be only $21.20 annually on a 40-acre field; on dry grazing land, it would be an additional $1.20 annually.

To their credit, commissioners have attempted to pencil in real estimates of other future costs if the jail proposal is approved. The new facility would need an estimated 20 additional staff, at an estimated cost of over $1 million annually. And there’ll be higher maintenance costs, supplies, etc.

They hope to offset these by renting jail beds to other jurisdictions, and may even reduce the current net costs, but there are no guarantees.

Commissioners also hope to be able handle some expenses if an earlier Urban Renewal Agency bond diversion is retired, thus bringing in an additional $1 million to the county. But there’s no assurance of that either and, in any case, it might be several years away. Nor is there any public discussion of using that money specifically for tax relief or returning even a portion to taxpayers. That appears to be off the table.

Two new state laws in 2018 and 2019 should help voters see the whole calculations. Idaho Code 34-439 and 34-439A include transparency language requiring ballots for both bonds and levies to show clearly the anticipated total tax over the life of the proposed measure. (

Then there are the nominally non-partisan elections for mayors and council members throughout the state. In Twin Falls, three incumbent council candidates, including the mayor, are saying they support higher local sales taxes, which everyone pays on most purchases. (Times-News, Sept. 27, 2019).

Pushing back, support had grown in recent years to require all elected positions in Idaho to run on partisan ballots, to give voters real information as to the sometimes-obscure partisan leanings of candidates. That could get another look this coming year at the GOP convention in January, and perhaps from legislators. 

Followers of this column and of my own 10-year legislative service with six years on the House Revenue & Taxation Committee, know that I’m usually a hawk when it comes to tax measures.

I’m not alone in thinking local officials generally should “cool their jets” on taxes and let rising valuation increases alone fund local needs. Raising tax rates through additional levies, to my way of thinking, is both unwise politically and counter-productive to investment and growth. But waddaIknow?

Sure, Idaho is a rapidly growing state with expanding needs in many quarters. Some argue that each proposal is a pressing “need” which must be met. But the costs always come from only one place: your wallets.

It’s my sense that an incipient tax revolt is widely abroad in the Idaho landscape and is likely to manifest itself in this fall’s voting.  That’s my two cents. You’ve got yours to express at the ballot box on Nov. 5. Just do it.

Stephen Hartgen, Twin Falls, is a retired five-term Republican member of the Idaho House of Representatives, where he served as chairman of the Commerce & Human Resources Committee.  Previously, he was editor and publisher of The Times-News (1982-2005). He is the author of the new book “Tradition & Progress: Southern Idaho’s Growth Since 1990.” He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..