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Idaho lawmakers have opted for a dramatically scaled back tax cut on business equipment.  Rather than repealing the business personal property tax entirely as Governor Butch Otter had proposed, the House and Senate have sent him a bill that exempts the first $100,000 of property from the tax.  This change eliminates the tax for 90 percent of Idaho businesses while costing the treasury a fraction of the amount of outright repeal.

Even with the bill’s $20 million price tag, the Associated Press (AP) reasonably described it as a victory for counties and schools that would have been hit hard if the tax were repealed.  The AP also called it a “setback” for big businesses’ major lobby—the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry (IACI).  IACI has pledged to continue lobbying for full repeal next year.

Had the business personal property tax been repealed in full, the biggest winner would have been Idaho Power, which would have seen its tax bill drop by anywhere from $10.5 to $15.3 million per year. Our partner organization, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), helped put this property tax cut into context with a report explaining that Idaho Power already pays nothing in state corporate income taxes.  Looking at nationwide state corporate tax payments, ITEP showed that from 2007 to 2011, the company actually collected a $7 million state tax rebate despite earning $623 million in profits. That amounts to an overall effective tax rate of negative 1.1 percent.

While it’s discouraging that lawmakers prioritized cutting taxes this session on the heels of last year’s regressive income tax cut, the decision to keep the business personal property tax on the books is a welcome bit of fiscal sanity.