Friday, March 26, 2004

Other Counties Jug Lewiston Residents Too

A good idea should not have to go in search of a good excuse. Providing citizens with property tax relief is always a good idea. Replacing the lost revenue with a consumption-based tax is also a good idea. Doing so under the guise of charging neighboring counties for crimes committed by their residents in Nez Perce County borders upon silliness. I suspect that surrounding counties already have an informal reciprocal arrangement whereby Nez Perce County-based malefactors are kept on ice in their jails at the expense of the county where the offense was committed. We may be fairly confident that Nez Perce County’s ne’er do wells do not limit their pillaging and plundering to their home territory. In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the balance of incarceration did not already favor Lewiston.
In spite of the fact that the above argument, which was advanced by the Nez Perce County prosecutor, makes little sense, Nez Perce County’s plan to raise the local sales tax one-half percent, with the revenues used to build a new jail and to provide property tax relief to the county’s property owners is, on balance, a good idea. And it is an idea that the voters should approve when it appears on the ballot on May 25.
Property tax is a particularly onerous levy for which there is no legitimate defense. Aside from the excuse that government has been collecting such taxes for a long time, there really is no excuse for punishing people for owning their own home.
My checking account is not taxed. Neither is my savings account. The tax collector does not inventory my furniture and present me with a bill for the privilege of sitting in my easy chair. If I owned a wide screen, high definition, color television, it would be none of the government’s business. So why should my land and my house, unique among all my wealth, be exposed to taxation? There is no good reason – except that it has always been done that way.
I consider my home to be part of my savings – a nest egg for the future. Because I have made sacrifices when I was younger, I will not have to pay rent in my retirement. In that way, my home is much like a self-administered pension fund. The revenuers don’t look over my retirement account and tax me on the balance.
And so, with all the good reasons for shifting the tax burden from property to consumption, why would somebody have to come up with the silly justification that raising sales taxes will enable the county to reach into the pockets of out-of-town shoppers and charge them for housing residents of those towns in the local lockup?
The genesis of the idea is a convoluted one. Originally, the Idaho State Legislature passed a law that only permitted Kootenai County the authority to raise its own property taxes to build a new jail. The state’s Supreme Court turned its thumb down on that law for the obvious reason that it did not apply equally to all counties. So, if Kootenai County was to have the authority to shift its tax burden, then all Idaho counties must have the same flexibility. The legislature passed the law, but kept the stipulation that building a new jail would be part of the bargain. Why the state should care how the money is spent baffles this observer.
The warped result is that, in order to provide property owners with tax relief, counties have to build a new jail.
Arguing in favor of shifting the tax burden, and building a new jail, County Prosecutor Dan Spickler tried to make the case that the Nez Perce county jail contains not just Nez Perce county residents, and doesn’t it make sense to tax residents of those other counties when they come to Nez Perce County to shop?
The short answer is: No, it doesn’t. Nez Perce county residents drive drunk in Clarkston, and start bar fights in Latah County. They boost cars in Idaho County and burgle apartments in Whitman County.
Nez Perce County residents take up space and consume tax revenue from their neighbors, just the same as Asotin County residents find themselves on the wrong side of the law in Nez Perce County.
Property tax relief is a good idea. Getting even with neighbors isn’t.

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