The House Rev & Tax Committee this morning had three proposals on its agenda for local-option taxes. The first was from the city of Lewiston, which wanted to impose its own local hotel/motel tax. “Lewiston and our region has seen a change in the economy – our natural resource base has eroded, and much of what was previously used for timber land is now used for recreation,” Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, told the panel. Sen. Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston, joined him, noting that the new 2 percent bed tax would need a two-thirds vote from local residents to be approved, and it would fund economic development and promotion. The two Lewiston legislators noted that smaller tourist towns can do this now, but there’s nothing in the law that fits Lewiston. “It’s an effort to de-emphasize property tax utilization by the local municipalities,” Stegner told the committee.
House GOP Caucus Chair Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, moved to reject the proposal, and not introduce it or allow a hearing. His motion passed, 10-8. Afterward, Stegner said he knew going in that the measure would be a tough sell in the committee. The outcome, he said, was “not inconsistent with their approach to dealing with innovation.”
Then, the committee took up a proposal from the Idaho Sheriff’s Association and the Idaho Association of Counties for a local option county sales tax bill. The idea was to expand the current law that’s successfully been used by Kootenai and Nez Perce counties to fund new jails and property tax relief with a locally approved sales tax, to let other counties do the same. “Here we are, back wanting to expand it,” groused Roberts. Said Rep. Lenore Barrett, R-Challis, “You’re drifting this out into the smaller areas, and I just don’t think that is a wise tax policy.” Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene, said, “This is an option – it’s worked.” But the panel voted 11-7 against introducing the bill or allowing a hearing on it.
The third one up was a much-watched proposal to allow a local-option sales tax to support public transit. It’s an extremely hot issue in the Boise area, where traffic chokes the freeways every morning and night during rush hour, and it gets worse and worse each year. This time, the bill wasn’t killed outright. Roberts’ motion to reject it failed on an 8-10 vote, and Rep. Leon Smith’s motion to introduce the bill passed, 12-6. Now the measure could come up for a hearing before the same committee.