- Associated Press - Thursday, January 5, 2017

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Idaho has given big tax breaks to more than 30 companies since kicking off a new program designed to lure businesses to expand throughout the state.

Department of Commerce Director Megan Ronk, the state’s top economic development promoter, told lawmakers Thursday that the so-called Tax Reimbursement Incentive program has helped create a projected 5,200 new jobs since the tax break was approved in 2014.

“Certainly we have some challenges that we have to work through and that we’ll continue to face at a statewide level,” Ronk said. “But Idaho is continually recognized, especially these past few years, as a great place to do business.”

The incentive program allows Idaho to refund up to 30 percent of state corporate income taxes, payroll taxes and sales taxes to businesses that create a projected 50 new jobs in urban areas and 20 in rural areas. The goal is to attract employers to move to the Gem State and help budge Idaho-based businesses to expand or take on new projects.

Since its inception, Idaho has approved $60.9 million in tax relief. These projects range from as little as giving an incentive worth $63,200 to Australian women’s activewear Vie Active to set up their headquarters in central Idaho, to giving $6.7 million in tax breaks to organic convenience food producer Amy’s Kitchen to expand a facility in eastern Idaho.

Ronk added that of the 33 projects approved, 18 have been in rural areas and 15 in urban areas. Meanwhile, 16 involved existing Idaho businesses and 17 were business moving to the Gem State.

However, the program has faced criticism from some Idaho Republicans, who argue the incentive hurts local businesses because it effectively gives out-of-state competitors more money to offer higher salaries. In March, a Boise business sued the state over the program after the commerce department granted an incentive to a competitor. A judge later dismissed the case.

Ronk was one of several presenters who spoke optimistically about Idaho’s economy during the Economic Outlook and Revenue Assessment Committee meeting.

Lawmakers were briefed by economists that the state’s personal income is expected to grow 3.9 percent this year and another 4.5 percent next fiscal year, which starts at the beginning of July. Furthermore, the state’s population continues to increase in the most-populated counties.

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