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Grocery tax relief clears Senate committee

A motion to send the House-passed grocery tax relief bill to the Senate’s 14th Order for amendment failed, 4-5, and then the Senate Local Government & Taxation Committee voted 7-2 to send HB 588 to the full Senate with a recommendation that it “do pass.” Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, urged the panel to pass the bill as-is. Fulcher told the senators they had three options: “Passing the bill, doing nothing and telling our constituents why, or shipping it off to the 14th Order, where we make it better, and make it better all the way to the grave – and we’ve all seen the shenanigans that can happen there.”

Sen. Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston, proposed the amending, saying his preference was to pass the bill’s first-year increases in the grocery tax credit, but not to obligate future legislatures with automatic increases in subsequent years. Before taking up the bill, the committee heard five-year projections the panel requested from Legislative Budget Director Cathy Holland-Smith, which showed that given various assumptions, the state won’t be able to afford to fund both the grocery tax credit increases in future years and the proposed personal property tax repeal that business interests have requested to phase in over the coming years. Stegner said he preferred, rather than setting future years’ increases in the grocery credit now, “to see whether or not we could afford ‘em as time goes by.”

Sen. David Langhorst, D-Boise, argued against the move. “I think if this goes to the amending order that we could very likely kill this bill for the second year in a row,” he declared, “and I don’t think we should do that.” Sen. Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello, said, “It’s a very good bill, and I think the fact that it extends, hopefully, depending on the revenues, into future years will be very helpful and hopeful to those that really need this credit.” The bill raises the credit from the current $20 a year to $30 for most Idahoans next year, and to $50 for the low-income. In subsequent years, state revenues permitting, it would rise another $10 a year until it hit $100 for everyone. The bill now moves to the full Senate.

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Eye On Boise

News, happenings and more from the Idaho Legislature and the state capital.