Stephen Hartgen 01

The Nov. 5 elections have come and gone, yet we’re now hearing the post-mortems that, hey, if you won’t agree to raise your own property taxes, how about raising other taxes instead, such as taxes on most everything you buy? Government would get more of your money either way.

In a recent editorial (11/10/2019) the Times News says just that. They say you’re right, dear citizens, to be concerned with skyrocketing property tax rates. Their solution is to increase another tax, to add a penny or two to local sales tax rates, now at 6 cents on the dollar. They describe this as ‘a small hike in sales tax to use for local projects.”

Small hike? As in 16 percent if one penny and 33 percent if two pennies?  (2 cents on top of 6 already in place is a one-third increase). Wanna pay a third more in taxes for virtually everything you buy? And that’s called a “small hike?”

The proponents of sales tax increases skate over the costs, which come from only one place: your wallets. Rather, they focus on the so-called crying needs of the community: schools, jails, courthouse remodels, court staff expansions, fire stations, recreation centers, events venues, on and on. Behind the rhetoric, it’s all just bigger government stuff.

They talk about “fairness” as if out-of-town workers and shoppers are sponging off (“freeloading” in their thinking) city services.

This is nonsense. Twin Falls depends on a healthy regional economy. The region would dry up if it weren’t for the agriculture of this valley and regional consumer demand. Tax opponents know this. Tax proponents know it too. They just don’t want you to know that they know it; easier to ask for more, more, more tax money than to curtail expenses.

People from all over come to town to work, shop, recreate, whatever. (We were in a local watering hole one recent Friday evening; it was packed with folks, all spending money, all “recreating,”) paying sales tax on all of it.

What the tax proponents don’t say is that these same workers already pay for “city” services with a portion of the current six cents sales tax they spend going to local governments.

The information is on the Idaho Tax Commission website, under statistics, then to sales tax reports. Quarterly sales tax data shows Twin Falls city was paid $2.439 million in the year ending Sept. 30 by the state as its proportion of sales tax receipts (roughly 4.05 percent on a similar percent of state population 49,764), plus another $2,014 million as its share of Twin Falls County sales tax receipts.

That’s almost $4.5 million annually which Twin Falls now gets from sales tax remittances, paid by you now on every gas station corn dog, six-pack of cola, MAGA hats for the kids, virtually everything you buy.

If the city thinks the formula shortchanges Twin Falls, they can ask for a review. But that would pit them against other communities’ shares of the quarterly distribution, a shifting quarterly amount which is what it is.  Easier to argue that the total isn’t big enough and that a higher base is “needed.” 

Well, dear taxpayers, local option taxation isn’t going to happen in Boise, no matter how many the media incantations. Like ancient shamans trying to conjure up more tribal hocus-pocus, tax expansion advocates aren’t going to get their “small hikes” in the sales tax rates from legislators. 

The reason is simple enough: local option taxation is a flawed idea. Let us count the ways: One, it’s a tax increase, and a big one. A really big one which would inevitably reduce business investment and growth statewide. Raising taxes always does this. Lowering taxes spurs investment. It’s the California versus Texas model. Which is better for Idaho?

Two, it’s an election year. Legislators won’t raise taxes in an election year, no way, no how.

Three, local option taxes create artificial inequities across communities, thus driving up taxes for all. (That appears to be proponents’ intent. to raise everyone’s taxes.) 

Four, local option taxes aren’t reliable; in a recession, people cut back on taxable purchases, and this reduction hurts even more (Ketchum lost 40 percent of its city revenue in the 2007-2010 downturn.)

Five, it imposes taxes on people who can’t vote on it up or down. (Declaration of Independence, 1776, specific grievance against the British king, written by Thomas Jefferson: “For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent.”)

Where’s the “fairness” in taxing people more who are already paying the sale taxes for the “privilege” of coming to town to buy something? It was this simple affront which led a group of Indian-disguised colonials to throw some tea in Boston Harbor.

Sure, the state is growing, but how about limiting the increases in valuations to pay for the new shiny government stuff? People understand that if their home values are increasing, they’ll pay more taxes. But they draw the line at the continual efforts to raise tax rates on top of the valuations. Thus, they vote “No” when such proposals come along. And that’s what they tell their legislators: vote “No.”

P.S. They also defeat government “leaders” who want to raise taxes, such as Boise mayor David Bieter whose “Bieter bloat” ideas got him losing big time in November to Boise Council member Lauren McLean.

None of this seems to draw any understanding from the “more taxes” advocates in local government and the media who just want more of your money.

Can’t raise local property taxes? Can’t get the Legislature to let you pillage people’s wallets on more sales taxes?

Well, here’s something local government can do: cut local government expenses. Lower tax rates. Reduce costs in government. Ever see local government do that? Ever had a lower tax bill?

Whoa, they say, we can’t do that! We have all these “needs.” Poor criminals can’t sleep on the floor. We’ll be sued, sued, mind you! The American Civil liberties Union is coming to get us! Better pay now! Gotta have that new recreation center! We’re a big town now, getting bigger. Just give us more money!

Nope. No will do. Tapped out. Sorry. So sad. Too bad.

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..