2022: strong economy, significant population growth

The 2022 legislative session adjourned for the year on March 31.

The session’s achievements are an indicator of the strength of Idaho’s economy and the significant population growth we are seeing. With available tax revenue, we’ve made record investments in transportation and education, funded much-needed public safety and police improvements in Idaho, lowered the income tax rate, provided tax relief by returning taxpayers’ money to Idaho taxpayers, and we were still able to put money in savings accounts in case of bad weather.

I am cautious in assuming that we will see ever-increasing tax revenues at the state level. We certainly have a growing population which is contributing to the economic growth of the state, but I believe we are also seeing the effects of federal funds flowing into the state. These federal funds cannot continue at the current rate. The national debt to gross domestic product is at a level not seen before after World War I and World War II.

In line with this cautious approach, every effort has been made in the budget process to match current commitments with current tax revenues. One-time revenues will be used for one-time projects. For example, federal funds for sewer and water improvements are not incorporated into a state agency’s base budget. Instead, these one-time funds will go primarily to municipalities and rural water and sewer districts for capital improvement projects needed for safety and continued operation. Spending the money on capital improvement projects ensures a long-term return.

Another use of one-time funds this year is the Parent Empowerment Grant Program (S1255). All Idaho students, whether home-schooled or in public or private school, are eligible for up to $1,000 for education expenses with a $3,000 limit per family. The program will be administered by the State Board of Education at boardofed.idaho.gov. Details should be available soon.

A renewed commitment to our public schools was made this legislative session with over $300 million in new permanent general funds provided. This is a 12.5% ​​budget increase for K12 schools, necessary for retention and recruitment in the current inflationary environment as well as to keep up with student population growth. Nearly a third of the increase was aimed at bringing funding for health benefits for school employees on par with state employees. In addition, the previously approved Teacher Career Scale pay scale increases have been made. Additional funding has also been provided for K3 literacy programs that schools can use to provide optional all-day kindergarten.

State funding increases for our K12 schools are a benefit to the local property taxpayer. School budgets are funded by a combination of dollars from federal, state, and local property taxes. As more public funds are provided, the contribution from property taxes may be reduced.

Another benefit to our rural areas is the transportation funding authorized this year. $200 million is now available for bridges on our local road systems throughout Idaho. Bonner and Boundary counties have done well in the past with the competitive grant application process that will again be used to distribute these funds. I expect to see several projects in our region to modernize the small bridges that are worn out. In addition to the $200 million for bridges, there is an additional $200 million for highway maintenance that will go to the Idaho Department of Transportation and local highway systems in a 60/40 split. This means that our cities and counties will receive their share of $80 million in new maintenance funds.

Emergency responders across the state will benefit from $10 million in public safety communications infrastructure upgrades. The Idaho State Police will have a new forensic laboratory to combat crime and drug trafficking, as well as two new investigators dedicated to combating drug trafficking across the southern border from the United States and to Idaho. Fentanyl and other narcotics are a significant problem that we need to address in our state.

Idaho’s income tax rate is now 6%, down from 7.4% just over five years ago. In addition to the rate reduction, tax refund checks are being issued. The amount you will receive is 12% of what you paid in 2020 or a minimum of $75.

Below is a list of new laws from the legislative session that may be of interest to you. All of these recently passed bills can be viewed at legislature.idaho.gov/sessioninfo.

H509 Grocery Tax Credit – The credit has increased from $100 per person to $120. A family of four can now purchase $8,000 worth of duty-free groceries annually.

S1378 – Dangerous Missing Person Alert – This is a new tool for inter-jurisdictional missing person notification.

H700 – Off-Road Vehicles – OHVs with the small white off-road plate can now travel up to five miles on posted roads at 65 mph or less. The OHV speed limit is 45 mph.

H532 – Election Review – This is an election security bill allowing the Secretary of State or County Clerk to seek judicial review of an election in a district court.

H650 – Curriculum Adoption Committees – Requires that a school district’s selection of programs be made through a committee process that includes parents of students in the district.

S1262 and H705 – These are similar bills regarding Second Amendment rights during an extreme emergency (H705) or a declaration of emergency in the event of a disaster (S1262). Gun businesses are essential businesses and guns cannot be seized.

H756 – Crisis Care Standards – Ensures visitation rights for family members in a hospital or assisted living facility when crisis care standards are activated.

I believe the financial decisions outlined above, as well as the policy choices in the new laws, reflect our Idaho values. We strive to strike a balance between obligations today, investing in our future, positioning ourselves in potential economic distress, and respecting taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars. We value our freedoms and our independence. I don’t know of any other state that is doing as well as Idaho or where I would rather live. The challenge is to keep what we have.

Senator Jim Woodward represents District 1, Bonner and Boundary Counties, in the Idaho Senate. He can be reached at [email protected]

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