The state’s top commerce official Tuesday told legislators looking at tax reform that Idaho needs to put creating jobs and attracting and retaining talent ahead of cutting taxes to drive the state’s economy.
“We do need lower taxes some day, and not today,” said Commerce Director Jeff Sayer. “The return for the state is not in lowering taxes. It’s investing in talent.”
Sayer cited a promising state Department of Labor study that projects 109,000 new jobs statewide in the next 10 years.
The problem? Most of the 108,000 new residents expected in those 10 year are retirees. Just 14,000 working-age adults are projected to move here in the coming decade, leaving the state with 95,000 jobs to fill.
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“In all of those conversations we’ve had with industry leaders, not one of them has brought up tax rates,” Sayer said. If the intent of the legislative panel is solely to lower taxes, he said, “I extend to you my extreme caution.”
“We’re going to draw people to our states if we can produce high-paying jobs,” Sayer said in response to questions from the panel. “Is the tax rate a factor? Maybe. But it’s not near the factor as demonstrating to people that we’re investing in our education system, that we’re investing in infrastructure, that we’re providing high speed broadband in rural communities. Those are the kinds of things that are attracting people to our state, not a tax rate.”
Sayer announced last week that he’s leaving the post he’s held since 2011 by the end of the year to return to work in business.
The 12-member joint panel was created to look at potential changes in tax policy that the Legislature could consider in the 2016 session. Several sweeping tax proposals were floated in this year’s session but died, as legislators scrambled to address spending priorities on education and infrastructure.
Sen. Jeff Siddoway, one of the working group’s co-chairs, said he was “probably on the same page” as Sayer on tax cuts. His primary interest, he said, is simplifying the state tax code.
“Any great big tax cuts, I’m probably not supportive of,” said Siddoway, R-Terreton. “But that’s going to be the will of the group, too.”
The panel meets again Oct. 14.