Bob Solomon and Toni Ferro, 10-23-22
Some of the hardest conversations we have had during the 10,000 doorknocks of our two campaigns are with senior citizens who are on fixed incomes and fear being taxed out of their homes. We meet them in all parts of our districts. Their stories demand solutions, but the Legislature has instead made things more difficult for seniors. Here’s how we got here and what we can do about it.
In 2016, the Legislature passed HB431, which froze the homeowners’ property tax exemption, shifting a larger share of property taxes to Idahoans. Despite discussion since then about what can be done to provide real property tax relief, the Legislature has done very little — leaving homeowners to struggle. One group though, has suffered more than others at the hands of their Legislature —our seniors on fixed incomes.
Many seniors qualify for the circuit breaker, a program that helps low-income seniors and people with disabilities with their property taxes. Seniors who earn less than $32,230 in a year can save between $250 and $1,500 on their tax bills. About 23,000 seniors qualify for the circuit breaker statewide, and 8,500 people in Canyon and Ada counties combined. Seventy-five percent of circuit-breaker participants earn less than $20,000 per year.
In 2021, the Legislature made it harder for seniors to qualify for the circuit breaker by adding a property value limit. When voters realized the new law would kick 4,000 people off of the circuit breaker statewide, the Legislature amended the change (a little) in 2022 before the 2021 bill went into effect. One of our opponents voted against even this moderate amendment.
The amendment raised the property value limit to the greater of $300,000 or 150% of the median value of property within counties. This limit is about $600,000 in Canyon and $800,000 in Ada. This year about 170 people lost eligibility for the circuit breaker in our two counties.
In the end, hundreds of people statewide are losing their eligibility for the circuit breaker, and maybe their homes, because the value of their property has shot up through no action of their own (assessed values have gone up 40% in Canyon and 30% in Ada this year alone).
Worse, the circuit breaker has become less and less helpful for seniors as property values rise year after year. A senior making $32,000 in a year gets a $250 property tax break. And that amount hasn’t gone up as property taxes have gone up. So, a tax break that used to cover 25% of their property tax bill may now cover only 15%.
Homes are not merely assets for most seniors. Instead they are where they have lived, raised their families, and hope to spend their retirement. The Legislature (which we hope to be part of) must ensure seniors can stay in their homes, not increase their taxes even more.
We propose the following solutions:
Make it easier to qualify for the circuit breaker by eliminating or at least increasing the recently added property value limit.
Increase the amount of the tax break for qualifying seniors to keep pace with the increase in property taxes. The legislature has recently focused on reducing taxes for high-income earners, let’s spread the focus to low-income seniors.
Limit the amount property taxes can increase in a given year.
Seniors we have met face hard choices about paying their taxes or buying food and medicine.
We believe that no seniors should be forced from their homes because of rising assessments.