The interim Committee on Federalism met Monday, November 21 at the Statehouse. Included in the agenda was the closing of the contract between AEON AI and the State of Idaho, which conducted a land valuation to determine the taxable value of our public lands (which are, by definition, nontaxable). This is a result of legislation passed in 2021, HCR8.
The contracted company, AEON AI, which has deep ties to anti-public lands advocates, provided property values of land in two of Idaho’s 44 counties.
However, these dollar estimates left out crucial criteria that drastically influence the results. For instance, the valuation made assumptions about infrastructure on these lands, creating estimates as if there was existing infrastructure and the land were developable. As we know, a parcel in the middle of the Frank Church Wilderness will not have the same road, sewer, and cable in place as a parcel in Canyon County. However, the land was valued as if it did.
Additionally, the land valuation doesn’t include money our counties are compensated for through the Federal Secure Rural Schools Act, which represents about half of the total dollars counties receive from Washington DC.
So what was the point of this valuation? The apparent goal of the contract was to motivate the Federal government to provide higher compensation to Idaho counties with large portions of non-taxable public land. Unfortunately, determining the taxable value of public land in Idaho will have little impact on reforming national programs that provide that compensation, like PILT or SRS.
Idaho legislators and county officials pushing for a greater level of compensation would be better served lobbying congress for changes. One study conducted in two Idaho counties is not enough to force reform of two underperforming federal programs. Despite many problems with the premise of the study, AEON AI will be paid $250K of taxpayer money for their work.