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Governor eyes coronavirus aid distribution tied to tax limit

June 9, 2020 GMT

TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) — Gov. Brad Little and lawmakers have announced a plan allowing cities and counties to tap into $200 million of federal coronavirus relief money to pay police and other public safety workers as long as property taxes are also reduced.

The plan announced Monday is using part of the $1.25 billion Idaho received in federal rescue money to help with the pandemic. Little’s Coronavirus Financial Advisory Committee will finalize specific details.

“Our focus is to support our communities and our police, fire, and EMS personnel and ensure there are no reductions in public safety during these unprecedented challenges,” Little said in a statement. “I appreciate the cities and counties working with us to ensure the resulting budget savings are given back to the people of Idaho in the form of property tax relief rather than backfilling local government budgets.”

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Property taxes became a top issue in the legislative session earlier this year as explosive growth in parts of the state caused property values to increase, forcing up property taxes. Some longtime homeowners said they were being forced from their homes.

Several property tax relief bills were introduced during the session that ended in March as the virus started spreading, but none of the bills became law.

“Meaningful property tax relief has been the acute focus of lawmakers for several years now,” said Republican House Speaker Scott Bedke. “We will continue our efforts to find new ways to provide Idahoans ongoing relief from rising property taxes, but we have an opportunity now to help Idahoans in the short term.”

“I think this will provide some short-term relief that will be meaningful and helpful in these very stressful times,” said Republican Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill.

Twin Falls County Commissioner Don Hall said Little’s plan will help support public safety workers while not burdening property owners.

“This will absolutely, 100% enhance those efforts to try to get some of this money back to citizens, try to get them back on their feet,” Hall said.

The $1.25 billion needs to be used by December 30. About $650 million has now been allocated.

Besides the $200 million plan announced Monday, another $310 million was previously allocated to help small businesses and the self-employed. Included in that $310 million is $100 million announced last week to encourage the 100,000 residents who lost their jobs due to the pandemic to return to work with a $1,500 bonus for full-time workers and $750 for part-time workers.

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Also, as previously announced, counties are getting about $44 million and cities about $42 million, with allocations based on population. Special-purpose taxing districts are getting $7 million and tribal governments $634,000. State agencies are getting about $58 million.

That leaves roughly $600 million that hasn’t been allocated that state officials say is being held in reserve for such things as a virus outbreak that could require significant resources to halt the spread.

The state is also exploring strategic initiatives such as expanding broadband infrastructure.

Idaho is currently in the third stage of Little’s four-stage plan to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. Nearly all businesses can now open under the guidelines.

Little has scheduled a news conference on Thursday to announce whether infection rates remain low enough for the state to move into the fourth stage of reopening, which allows gatherings of greater than 50 people as well as lifting other restrictions.