The Republican led Idaho legislature is keeping it's citizens in the dark and it is going to cost the Idahoan taxpayer $845 million this year.
Through twists and turns in the Idaho state law, only a precious few in the office of the Idaho Tax Commission know precisely where $845 million dollars in tax credits and exceptions is heading to.
While federal law is fairly clear about the confidentiality of business tax information, thirty seven other states have set up requirements for businesses to show what incentives they are getting and how much the incentives are worth.
Greg LeRoy, executive director of Good Jobs First told Idaho Statesman, "We're not advocating the disclosure of tax returns. This is about saying, if you claim a corporate income tax credit on line 39C of your Idaho tax return, it's no different than if the state wrote you a check."
When Idaho gives up $845 million in revenue, someone else will have to fill the gap. "Everyone else has to pay higher taxes or everybody else gets lousier public services because the state is giving up that revenue -- or a little bit of both," says LeRoy.
While Idaho presently has 27 different tax credits that have passed the legislature, the most popular is the Investment Tax Credit. Roughly $260 million will be lost to the state through the ITC. Another $585 million will be lost through sales tax exemptions.
Stan Howland, a retired auditor in Boise who used to work with the Tax Commission, was a state whistleblower in 2008. Like the canary in the coal mine, he gave early warning that the state was losing millions of dollars due to backroom deals with the tax commissioners. "Idaho operates on a complete, total secrecy system. No matter what a taxpayer does, nobody has a right to know it," Howland says.
While 37 states have online services set up to cast light on tax incentive information, Idaho is one of the 13 states that don't.
Rep Brian Cronin (D-Boise) introduced legislation this year to start opening up the doors of secrecy. Cronin wrote the "Corporate Tax Incentive and Accountability Act." Under the CTIAA, businesses that got more than $40,000 in incentives would be required to report the number of jobs created by that benefit.
The bill died in committee.
Rep. Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, chairman of the House Revenue & Taxation Committee says, "I remember reading through it," Lake says. "I'm the guilty party as to why it didn't get a hearing. I didn't think it was worthy of a hearing." Lake, who isn't seeking re-election, goes on to say, "I wonder if that [CTIAA] isn't just a curiosity thing more than really something that matters as far as tax policy, it's just to satisfy people's curiosity like reporters."