Idaho Democratic leaders say they support responsible tax relief. But that, they say, is not what Gov. Butch Otter’s tax cut plan does.
“He will make it even better for corporations. He will make it even better for the wealthy,” House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, said Monday after Otter’s State of the State speech. “But if you are a family of five, you are going to pay more under his current plan.”
Otter’s plan calls for cuts to the corporate and income tax rates and implementing a nonrefundable $85 child tax credit. The latter would offset the loss of the personal exemption once Idaho conforms to the new federal tax reform law. State tax analysts estimate adopting the changes in federal law means Idaho will collect an extra $94 million in state taxes.
“An $85 nonrefundable tax credit for children, that is laughable. Eighty-five dollars is one day of a babysitter for most families,” Erpelding said. “If we had a refundable tax credit of $250 you would see families benefiting substantially in Idaho.
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“... A boon of $94 million into our budget is something we have to deal with. Certainly the majority (party) is going to say we cannot grow government. OK. So, what are we going to do with it? What is currently proposed is basically on the backs of families and children.”
Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said she will continue to push for bipartisan legislation to eliminate mandatory sentencing minimums for nonviolent offenders.
She said this is even more important because, once again, Idaho’s prisons are becoming overcrowded. Henry Attencio, director of the Idaho Department of Correction, told Otter on Monday that he estimates the state needs to house 250 inmates out of state starting in March.
Otter’s prison budget calls for finding space for nearly 200 more beds within the state’s existing prison facilities, but that will not be enough.
Reducing prison population instead of making room for more inmates is a more cost-effective approach, Stennett said. That was the Legislature’s logic several years ago when it passed justice reinvestment legislation, releasing more nonviolent inmates and those convicted of more minor crimes out on parole.
“The first big step is to reduce the mandatory minimums,” she said.
Being the fastest-growing state in the nation means potential for more crime, she said, which will put even more pressure on courts, prisons and IDOC. “How are we going to plan for that?” she asked.
“I am hoping we can make some progress on that because the sooner we can get ahead of this, the better.”
Given last year’s dust-up among Republican lawmakers, Erpelding thinks Democrats may have a better chance of working across the aisle with moderate Republicans to get traction for their legislative proposals.
“The Gang of Nine has grown to the Gang of 14,” he said referring to far-right Republican lawmakers who have banded together to increase their influence. “There has been changes in leadership on the Senate side. There a lot of changes that have happened this year. I think the intra-partisan warfare that is appearing within the majority party is unlikely to abate this session.”
Stennett maintained her party will continue to take the high road and not get into the fray while conducting the people’s business. “We will keep talking about civility,” she said.