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Idaho ends political messages on taxpayer refund checks

Earlier this year MSPC encouraged Idaho lawmakers to end the practice of including political messages on taxpayer refund checks. Thanks to the unanimous adoption of HB 618 and the signature of Governor Little, this reform is now the law in Idaho. This is from the text of the newly enacted HB 618:

“Except for the state controller as the issuing officer, neither the name of any elected public official, nor any electioneering message shall appear on any warrant, including in any remittance advice or remittance memo, unless acting as an endorser or otherwise necessary for the proper execution of a warrant. For the purposes of this subsection, ‘electioneering message’ shall include statements regarding, expressing support for, or soliciting support for any government program or initiative or non-profit corporation, including any program or initiative of a nonprofit corporation.”

MSPC received this comment from the Idaho Controller’s office in response to our recommendation to keep political messages off tax rebate checks:

“We support your efforts to educate people on this issue, and the need to keep electioneering types of communication out of financial payments.”

Receiving a refund for overpaid taxes is good. Having those checks include political messaging, however, is not. For example, here is language that was previously included on Idaho taxpayer refund checks.

 While this may be a worthwhile project, including this type of unrelated language on a taxpayer refund check is an example of the government unduly tipping the scales and should be avoided. HB 618 will now stop this practice from occurring in the future for Idaho.

Other states should follow the good example set by this new Idaho law. Consider the following controversy in neighboring Washington state. As reported by Center Square back in January:

“Last month, the AGO sent out $40 million worth of checks in the amounts of $50 and $120 to state residents considered ‘low-income’ derived from a lawsuit settlement against chicken and tune companies that had engaged in price-fixing. However, many of the checks ended up mailed to residents who are not low-income, wrongly addressed, or to people who are deceased. Yet, the biggest complaint among critics of the checks, which were signed by Ferguson and included a personal message touting his office’s successes, is that it was an inappropriate use of public money at a time when he is actively campaigning to be Washington's next governor.” 

Government officials should be commended for prioritizing tax refund checks when taxpayers overpay. The refund checks speak for themselves, however, without turning them into a government-funded political advertisement. Thanks to the action of Idaho lawmakers this session, taxpayer refund checks will no longer include political messages.

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