The House Revenue & Taxation Committee has voted to kill Gov. Butch Otter’s targeted grocery tax relief bill, which sought to give a big tax break on groceries to low-income Idahoans, but little or nothing to those with higher incomes. Instead, the panel passed HB 81, sponsored by Rep. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, and a large group of other legislators, to raise the grocery tax credit for everyone from $20 to $50, and for seniors from $35 to $70. The bill would cost the state an additional $47.5 million a year in lost sales tax revenue.
Rep. Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, chairman of the committee, said, “I think the governor knew that his proposal had some objections built right into it, because it was not only a tax relief measure, it was also a tax increase built into the same bill for some people.” Higher income people who now get a $20 annual grocery tax credit would’ve lost it under the governor’s bill, HB 80.
Rep. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, tried to amend the governor’s bill to the expand income categories receiving the credit and remove a prohibition on any food stamp recipients receiving the credit, but that move failed on a voice vote. The governor’s bill then was killed in committee on a voice vote, and HB 81 was sent to the full House on a 14-4 vote.
Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, said, “I had a problem with the governor’s bill. My problem is it’s a Robin Hood scenario – take from the rich and give to the poor. The middle class needs some help, and this was going to cut the middle class out.”
Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene, also voted to kill the governor’s bill and to pass HB 81 instead. “I appreciate the intent to give the relief to the low-income people, but when we raised the sales tax, everyone got hit with that,” Sayler said. Lawmakers raised the sales tax in August from 5 percent to 6 percent.
House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, who also voted to kill the governor’s bill and pass HB 81 instead, said, “We just improved on it a little bit – that’s not a defeat, that’s a win for the governor.”
Lake, however, said the bill may change when it hits the Senate side of the rotunda. House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, agreed. “Not very many of our bills get through there the same, do they?” he asked.