Bonner County, Idaho is suing the governor and others over how COVID-19 rescue funds are being dispersed.
Republican Governor Brad Little and other state officials were recently hit with a lawsuit by Bonner County over complaints on how the state plans to disperse coronavirus rescue money. According to the suit, which was filed July 14 in the U.S. District Court, the Treasury Department guidelines “require the state to simply distribute the rescue money to cities and counties based on population.” However, state officials “have tied allocations to payroll expenses for first responders as a way to reduce property taxes,” according to the suit. Additionally, to receive the rescue funds, “cities and counties cannot increase their property tax budgets by the allowed 3% next year or use any balance from previous years.” Local governments in the state had until July 17 to sign up to receive a chunk of the rescue money.
Of Idaho’s 44 counties, 16 are pushing back against the governor and requested a “legal opinion from the U.S. Treasury Department and state attorney general’s office concerning tying $200 million in rescue money to property tax relief.” Additionally, 28 other counties and 54 cities applied for the funding by the deadline, including Sandpoint, where Bonner County resides. According to the suit, Bonner County is asking the court for a “declaratory judgment spelling out who should get what portion of the $1.25 billion and how it should be distributed,” and would like the court to expedite the case. Also, the county argues the state only allocated $282 million to local governments. However, “the state is actually required to distribute 45% of the $1.25 billion to local governments, which would require Idaho to distribute about $560 million to local governments based on population,” according to the lawsuit.
Where are these coronavirus rescue funds coming from, though? Well, back in March, President Trump and Congress approved the $2.2 trillion CARES Act. Because of that, Idaho received $1.25 billion in aid funds. That legislation “doesn’t allow the use of the rescue money except as needed to deal with the public health emergency caused by the coronavirus,” the suit states. The county added, “Nor does the CARES Act impose any further restrictions on how the Funds may be used by their recipients.”
Shortly after the CARES Act was implemented, Little put together a financial advisory committee designed to help manage the rescue funds and get it to businesses, healthcare providers, and families struggling through the pandemic. Alex Adams, the governor’s budget chief, is the leader of the committee. In addition to Little, the latest lawsuit also names the committee as a defendant, as well as “Adams, Idaho Department of Commerce Director Tom Kealey, State Controller Brandon Woolf and Idaho State Treasurer Julie Ellsworth.”
When responding to the lawsuit, Marissa Morrison, a spokeswoman for Little, said:
“The Governor’s thorough plan to protect Idahoans and our economy from this terrible diseases is legal. The Treasury Department guidance gives the Governor the discretion to determine what expenditures are necessary due to the public health emergency.”