As you might have noticed, times are tough over at the pseudo-Statehouse — the converted old Ada County Courthouse. State agencies are pleading for any stray dollar they can grab. Legislative budget writers are looking for any drop of blood they can wring from the stone, so they can reduce budget cuts affecting Idaho's 272,000 school children.
I state the obvious because, evidently, the folks at the Idaho State Tax Commission are living in some happier alternate world. One where the state has plenty of extra dough, so it really doesn't matter what kind of deals the commission cuts with corporate taxpayers.
The Tax Commission left some basic questions unanswered Thursday during an embarrassing appearance before the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee.
The commission didn't deliver an annual report on its "compromise and closing agreements" — the deals reached with out-of-state businesses who contest their tax bills. Gov. Butch Otter asked for just such a report on Aug. 20, and set a January deadline. Shouldn't that be enough to get the ball rolling?
And yet it gets worse. The reason these deals are controversial — aside from the fact that they are shrouded in secrecy — is that they allow businesses to settle their tax bills for less that what they owe. So Boise Democratic Sen. Elliot Werk asked a reasonable enough question: How much money is the state giving up? The commission didn't say.
That's inexcusable. Legislators — and the taxpayers they represent — need some basic information so they can weigh the pros and cons of these settlements, which are designed to allow the state to avoid going to court. The current budget crunch ought to lend a little urgency to the process.
Just not in the Tax Commission's world.
Rexburg Republican Sen. Brent Hill — one of the softer-spoken and clearer-thinking people in the Legislature — didn't hide his displeasure. "It should not be on the back burner. It should be on the front burner. From that standpoint, I'm disappointed."
I second that.