Misinformed on National Forest Property Tax Rates

Editor’s note:  NWAF! Coalition member, Robin Stanley, offers some comments reacting to assertions recently made about the “Counties in Crisis – final cut” video over on the New Century of Forest Planning blog.


It appears to me that when some people do not like how we have detailed the historical changes in the forests management practices, they can only resort to accusing us of changing history.  And some of the latest comments are so heavy with personal bias they refuse to see the facts.

I will start out with the simplest misunderstanding.  Having participated in the State of Idaho school funding lawsuit, our team, with attorneys from both sides of the argument, and the Idaho State Tax commission labored for hours trying to get a handle on the “equity and fairness” of the tax rates across the state of Idaho.  After months of studying and comparing tax rates across the state and between states, it was impossible to determine a commonality among all the different contributing factors.    

First, Idaho property tax rates cannot be compared with Washington, Montana, or any other neighboring states because of the different tax structures in each state.  For example, Idaho tax payers pay three taxes; sales tax, income tax and property tax. While other states may have only sales tax and property tax.  Because sales tax and income tax are contributing to the state tax structure, Idaho’s property tax is artificially lower compared to other states because we are supplementing the tax bill with our other taxes.  The rate of sales tax, income tax and property tax paid all skew the common factor on how much “property tax” an individual in any particular state pays.  Unless all states are paying the same total tax rates and then compare property tax between the states, it is impossible to legitimately compare the property tax rate of an Idaho National Forest resident property tax rate to a rate outside the national forest.

Secondly, on the county level, homeowners exemptions and businesses that do not qualify for home owners exemptions skew the rates.  Areas with older populations have greater percentages of homeowners exemptions and large businesses, (like the Lucky Friday Mine in Mullan Idaho) play a significant role in helping keep the property tax low in communities with significant industry presents that do not qualify for homeowners exemptions and of course home owner’s exemptions themselves.    And then you can throw in supplemental levies, municipal bonds for water systems, sewer systems, road construction, as well as tax exempt businesses like federal installations etc. etc. etc. that all factor into the local property tax rate and the rates issue becomes even more convoluted.

So if anyone is expert enough to draw any valid statistically provable conclusions, they can make a great deal of money as a technical tax expert and they should contact the Idaho State Legislature as they are currently reviewing the school funding formula which will once again be grounded in the equity of local property tax rates.

So to make an assumption that some of the National Forest residents have a lower property tax rates has not been able to be statistically proven.  Good luck on that one. And I do look forward to the research behind it.  But is sure sounds good to throw it out based on some superficial statistics and unfortunately, if you do not have a good back ground on Idaho taxes, it is easy to misrepresent the data.

Moving on, I am perplexed how referencing the Pinchot “Use Books” and the agreements reached by Congress to supplement the western states loss of potential property tax with the 25% funds off the national forests is revisionary history?  It doesn’t take much research find those agreements and see how Congress even felt the original 10% was not high enough so they raised it to 25%.

The western states were never doomed to poverty.  In fact, Pinchot and TR promised an ongoing source of revenue from the timber harvest that would be even better than privately held land.   And I believe the states from both east and west of the Mississippi would agree the agreement worked well for almost a hundred years until Congress reneged on the deal.  It is only after Congress changed the rules after almost a hundred years of success, did the western states become poor and our communities begin burning up.

Rather than brand the video as revisionist history, maybe a little closer look at the real history of the national forest might be in order.  I would suggest a good place to start would be the Pinchot ‘Use Books”,  16 US Code 500 on the National Forest Payments and Compact of 1908.  And to get a little “historical” flavor of how the western states Senators were reacting to the fed land grab, how about reviewing some of the letters between Senator Heyburn, Idaho, the President, Pinchot, and others.  All three will confirm our video is well grounded in history and not personal opinion.


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2 Responses to Misinformed on National Forest Property Tax Rates

  1. Dawn wiksten says:

    Beautifully written! !!

  2. Dawn wiksten says:

    I think we need to get the word out soon that there are alternatives to the current problems in our forests and their management. Most folks i speak with never knew about our meeting earlier this month. We need a more central location and wider advertising range. And hopefully a discussion next time. Although, I do realize Mike might have to bring a cattle prod to settle some of that discussion down. 😉 But folks, fire season is starting, we have to get more visible.

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