Cheers and Jeers (cont.)

Corey Taule
February 19, 2010
Idaho Falls Post Register

Jeers to Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna. Last week, Luna led the charge to use endowment reserve funds to boost the public school budget. This week Luna passed on a chance to put money back into the fund.

At issue are leases on 521 cottage sites at Payette and Priest Lakes. The leases expire at year's end. Lessees have until April 30 to renew. For too long, well-heeled folks, mostly from Boise and Spokane, have gotten sweetheart deals at the expense of the land's beneficiaries, which include the public schools, Idaho State University and State Hospital South.

Currently, the state charges its lessees 2.5 percent of the land's assessed value. Those civic-minded folks want that dropped to 2.2 percent. Three members of the State Land Board, Otter, Secretary of State Ben Ysursa and Luna, were prepared to increase rents to 4 percent of value. Controller Donna Jones was non-committal. Attorney General Lawrence Wasden balked, saying the state should be charging 6 percent. Luna backed off his support, saying he wanted more time to discuss "premium rent," which is collected when leases sell. Sellers keep 90 percent of "leasehold value," paid by a buyer to assume the lease. Since 2003, the Idaho Statesman's Dan Popkey reported, leaseholders cleared $25 million while endowments got $2.7 million. The plan is to increase premium rent to 50 percent from 10 percent over five years.

Luna's reticence frustrated Otter. Clearly, this issue needs to be resolved. The Constitution demands maximum long-term return on the lands. Let's hope Luna remembers that when the Land Board meets next month.

Cheers to Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise. He's the latest to run a bill that calls for all sales tax exemptions to come under review. Winder wants exemptions to be reviewed every five years and for any new exemptions to carry a five-year expiration date. Senate and House Democrats are proposing similar legislation. The more the merrier. It's long past time for lawmakers to take a close look at sales tax exemptions, to see which ones are working and which ones are not.

Cheers to the Senate Tax Committee, which unanimously turned down a new sales tax exemption, this one dealing with homeless shelters. The bill passed the House 70-0 and carried a minimal price tag of $15,000. But give the committee credit for sticking to its guns. No new exemptions until the ones already on the books are examined. It's not easy to walk away from something that appears so deserving, but Chairman Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, and his crew are right to draw a line in the sand.

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