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House votes to override veto on grocery tax

The House has voted 48-22 to override Gov. Butch Otter’s veto of HB 81a, the bill to increase the grocery tax credit across the board. Otter wanted a targeted, means-tested plan instead, but lawmakers didn’t support that. “Everybody knows the track record with this bill and the broad support that’s been demonstrated,” said Rep. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, the bill’s lead sponsor. Rep. Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, noted that Gov. Otter likely was listening. “We’ll all be good friends when this is all over,” he said. “Many of us feel it is very important that we take home to our constituents some sort of a tax relief package this year. This is about tax policy, it’s not about political stances. It’s about good tax policy.”

Now the issue is up to the Senate, which also would have to vote by a two-thirds margin to override the veto for the bill to become law; that body earlier voted unanimously to pass the final version of the bill. Lawmakers raised the sales tax from 5 percent to 6 percent in August, as part of a property tax relief plan, without making any adjustment for basic food items. Idaho is one of a minority of states that fully applies its sales tax to groceries.

House Minority Leader Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, opposed the override, saying she preferred to entirely remove the sales tax from food, but if that couldn’t be accomplished, she favored a “sliding scale” as the governor proposed. “The problem that I have with the bill today is that we would be going home giving people 20 more dollars,” she said. “We haven’t resolved that bigger … problem. … Let’s at least try to take care of the people that are the most affected.” And if not, lawmakers should come back in January to try to write a better bill, she said.

Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, said in his three years in the House, he’s learned that “you don’t always get what you want.” Hart said he favored removing the sales tax from groceries and originally voted against HB 81. But, he said, “I think it’s what we have on the table right now. I think when we came into town with a $200 million surplus, we need to give some money back to the taxpayers.” He added, “As the legislative branch of government we have the ability to move past the governor if he disagrees with what we think we should do – that’s the way the constitution has it set up.”

House Tax Chairman Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, noted that Otter’s plan would have taken away the current $20 annual grocery tax credit from middle- and upper-income families, while giving low-income families a much larger credit. “The problem that I saw in his proposal was that it was a tax increase in the same legislation that it was a tax decrease, for some classes of people,” Lake said. “We considered that legislation.”

Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, said the bill will cost the state lots of money – about $32 million a year – while not giving much relief to Idahoans. The bill would double the current annual credit from $20 to $40 for everyone, and from $35 to $60 for seniors.

Rep. Lenore Barrett, R-Challis, said, “We spend a lot of taxpayer money – we do it every session. Therefore, how about an honest thank-you for the goose that lays the golden eggs?” Rep. Dell Raybould, R-Rexburg, said, “I’m not one that wants to go against the governor of this state of my party, but I do believe this is the right thing to do.”

Rep. Clete Edmunson, R-Council, said, “I’m just extremely disappointed that we have to stand up here and override one of our own.”


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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