Idaho legislators float new bill to ‘fix’ property tax problems they created last year

New bill would raise the property value limit for participation in the state’s circuit breaker program

By: - January 27, 2022 6:13 pm

Rep. Charlie Shepherd (R, Pollock) at the Idaho Capitol on April 6, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

A new bill introduced Thursday in the Idaho Legislature aims to restore property tax reduction benefits to some elderly and disabled Idahoans that are being booted from the circuit breaker program. 

Rep. Charlie Shepherd, R-Pollock, sponsored House Bill 481, which the House Revenue and Taxation Committee voted to introduce Thursday. 

The bill pertains to the state’s circuit breaker program, which is designed to reduce property taxes for elderly, disabled or widowed taxpayers.

If passed into law, the bill would increase the property value limit to 150% of the median assessed home value in the county, or $300,000, whichever is greater. The current limit in Idaho law is 125%.

Shepherd said his new bill is intended to fix a problem created last year when the Idaho Legislature passed House Bill 389 into law. That bill created the 125% median value limitation, which was expected to result in about 4,000 Idahoans no longer being eligible for the circuit breaker program in 2022, the Idaho Capital Sun previously reported


“If we do this, it’s going to cost the state $1.1 million out of our general fund,” Shepherd told legislators. “That sounds like a lot of money to me, but when we’re dealing with a $1.9 billion surplus and we’re going to spread that money around the state to help people, I think this ($1.1 million) is (an) acceptable expense to help some of the people that have lived in this state their whole life, paid taxes their whole life and all they’re wanting to do is hang on to their home that they have and bought and paid for and now — no fault of their own — are being taxed out of.”

The income limit for participation would remain at $31,900 per household or 185% of federal poverty guidelines. 

In 2019, the median income for individuals participating in the circuit breaker program was $17,635, according to the State Tax Commission. 

In presenting his new bill, Shepherd said the concept behind last year’s bill was to prevent “people of means” from taking advantage of the circuit breaker program. But he said he has since learned that many elderly and disabled residents, many of whom are low-income or on a fixed income, are losing their ability to use the circuit breaker. 

As a result of last year’s new law, Shepherd said 91 residences in Shoshone County, which he represents, are no longer eligible for the property tax reduction program. He said passing this new bill would restore eligibility for 81 of the 91 residents. 

“What this relates to is property tax reduction that’s essentially trying to put a fix on what I voted for last year that did not work out as well as I had hoped,” Shepherd said during the hearing. 

There was an element of bipartisan support to the bill at its introductory hearing Thursday. Rep. Lauren Necochea, D-Boise, made the motion to introduce it.

“This is a really important step in fixing a problem with what we did last year, kicking seniors off of property tax assistance,” Necochea told Shepherd during the hearing. “I would love to see the $300,000 level adjusted for inflation over time going out into the future, but I don’t want to mess with your bill.”

Some legislators asked Shepherd how he came up with the new $300,000 and 150% of median value eligibility limits. 

“Is that fair?” Shepherd asked during the meeting. “I can’t define fair, and I’m not trying to. I’m trying to be reasonable.”

Introducing the bill clears the way for it to return to the committee for a full public hearing.


Did you know?

The circuit breaker program is named for the electrical safety device that shuts off the flow of electricity when a system gets overloaded, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. When property taxes exceed a specified percentage of income, the circuit breaker overrides the property tax system.”

Democrats promote alternative proposals but can’t get hearings

Democratic legislative leaders convened a virtual news conference Thursday afternoon to promote alternatives for cutting taxes and investing some of the state’s projected $1.9 billion surplus. 

They outlined an alternative $600 million proposal they said is more effective than House Bill 436, the $600 million income tax and tax rebate bill the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee heard on Thursday. The committee, on a party-line vote, sent the bill to the Senate floor with a do pass recommendation. If it passes the full Senate, it will head to Gov. Brad Little for consideration.

Democrats called for:

  • Repealing the sales tax on groceries.
  • Restoring the indexed homeowner’s exemption for property taxes.
  • $380 million in property tax reductions, including sending $250 million to school districts to pay down school bonds and levies and spending $100 million to distribute the balance of the internet sales tax to local governments for facilities needs. 
  • $20 million refundable child tax credit. 


Democrats told reporters some of the proposals have already been introduced as personal bills that will not advance this legislation. 

“At various times we have been shot down on every single one of these proposals,” said House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise.

Bill banning conversion therapy for minors introduced

In other action from the Idaho State Capitol on Thursday, Rep. John McCrostie, D-Garden City, sponsored a new bill that would ban conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth under 18.

House Bill 483 would prevent Idaho licensed mental health professionals from using conversion therapy with minors.

McCrostie said conversion therapy is any practice or treatment designed to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. 

The House Health and Welfare Committee’s vote to introduce the bill clears the way for it to return to the committee for a full public hearing.

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Clark Corbin
Clark Corbin

Clark Corbin has more than a decade of experience covering Idaho government and politics. He has covered every Idaho legislative session since 2011 gavel-to-gavel. Prior to joining the Idaho Capital Sun he reported for the Idaho Falls Post Register and Idaho Education News. His reporting in Idaho has helped uncover a multimillion-dollar investment scam and exposed inaccurate data that school districts submitted to the state.