Idaho lawmakers discuss tax changes, no outcome reached

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A group of state lawmakers tasked with examining the state's complicated tax code narrowed in on possible recommendations during its final meeting Tuesday, but it's still unclear what — if any — will reappear before the 2016 Idaho Legislature come January.

The 12-member panel has spent the summer tossing around possible improvements to the code, but the discussions have shown the challenges of addressing Idaho's tax policies inside the Statehouse whether it's offering simple changes or urging comprehensive reforms.

"I was hoping that we would articulate a vision on where we wanted to go. We talked a little bit about trying to avoid the end-of-session train wrecks that we've seen in previous sessions. I think that (happens) because we don't have a vision," said Republican Sen. Lori Den Hartog of Meridian.

Legislative leaders formed the committee, known as the Tax Working Group, earlier this year with instructions to review the laws, but it wasn't required to submit a recommendation.

Yet from the beginning, the group has struggled to pinpoint a singular goal it wanted to accomplish. Some members wanted to undo the state's long list of tax exemptions, others lobbied for reducing rates to lure more businesses, while others suggested the code didn't need a fix because it wasn't broken.

After months of deliberating, four proposals were considered Tuesday:

— Remove the sales tax on groceries and eliminate the state's grocery tax credit — currently used to offset the cost of taxes families pay on food

— Reduce the income tax rate from 7.4 percent to 7.3 percent for Idaho's top earners

— Two options to increase the tax exemption on personal equipment purchased by businesses

However, none of the proposals won over the committee. Instead, chairman from the Senate and House tax committees agreed to hold joint-meetings during the upcoming sessions so both chambers could listen to proposals as they trickle in.

"I think it's good for us to have got together to look into topics we wouldn't have normally addressed during our normal germane committee meetings," said Rep. Gary Collins, R-Nampa, who is co-chair of the panel.

Efforts to push more tax breaks and incentives are common in Republican-dominated Idaho during election years, which will be the case during the 2016 legislative session. Yet it's not unusual for sweeping tax breaks to derail in the final hours of a session. Divisions can occur not only between Republicans and minority Democrats, but also among Republicans.

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