A constitutional amendment to restrict all future local-option taxes in Idaho to two-thirds supermajority votes at the November general election, and to be only by city or county, cleared the House Revenue & Taxation Committee this morning on a 13-5, party-line vote. Democrats on the panel objected, and unsuccessfully proposed an amendment to change the supermajority requirement to 60 percent. Said Rep. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, “We’re talking about holding local communities to a bar we don’t hold ourselves to.” But Rep. Lenore Barrett, R-Challis, called the two-thirds requirement “the only protection the taxpayer has, and even then you disenfranchise the one-third.”
A statewide coalition that has been working for more than two years to develop local-option taxing authority for transportation opposed the amendment. Spokesman Roy Eiguren said Idaho’s two-thirds supermajority is for property tax increases – not sales taxes, like the local-option taxes envisioned. Plus, he said requiring two-thirds within each county would crimp regional efforts to address regional issues. “Our view is that roads and transportation systems do not stop on the county line,” he told the committee.
House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said between Ada and Canyon counties, Ada has two-thirds of the population, and Canyon one-third. If a two-thirds vote is required between the two for a local-option transportation tax, he said, it could pass with only Ada County votes, and without a single vote from Canyon County. “That’s a fundamental taxation without representation argument,” he said.
Former state Rep. Jim Hansen, who testified against the bill, said a school bond that passed in his district didn’t get the two-thirds margin in his precinct, but it passed district-wide. “The reality is we’re all in this together,” he said. “We breathe the same air, we’re on the same highways.”
Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, said the constitutional amendment isn’t just about Ada and Canyon counties – it’s about the entire state, and the coalition pushing for local-option transportation taxes is statewide. Under the amendment, any local-option taxes still would have to be specifically authorized by the Legislature in enabling legislation. Senate Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, the amendment’s lead sponsor, said, “This is about empowering the people – this gives the people a chance to vote.” The bill passed on a 13-5 vote and now goes to the full House. It needs two-thirds approval from each house and a majority vote of the people at the next election to amend the state constitution. In the last two days, chambers of commerce in Boise, Coeur d’Alene and Garden City have voted to oppose the amendment, while the Idaho Falls chamber voted to support it.