House Speaker Lawerence Denney is not allowing any local-option tax bill to be considered in the House unless it contains a constitutional amendment, a restriction opposed by many local-option backers. “That has been my position, that if it’s not a constitutional amendment, I’m not interested,” Denney told The Spokesman-Review.
Rep. Branden Durst, D-Boise, said when he tried to bring his local-option tax bill to the House Rev & Tax Committee, he was told that the speaker was reviewing all local-option bills. Durst said the first question he got in that review was whether it had a constitutional amendment, and when he said his bill didn’t, he was informed that the only way he could get it printed was as a personal bill. Denney is consigning all personal bills this session to the House Ways & Means Committee, which rarely meets; there, they’ll die without hearings. Durst said, “This is not a matter of not having sufficient support in the germane committee. Ultimately, this is a matter of the speaker preventing any ideas that don’t align with his personal views from being heard.”
Denney said he doubts the bill could clear the committee anyway, and also that it could pass the full House. “This is an issue that has been around for a number of years,” he said. “We had agreement last year on the constitutional amendment, and people backed out. I think this is substantially different from just any issue - I think we have heard it. I think a constitutional amendment is the way it needs to be addressed.”
But Denney said he’s not stopping the bill from being considered entirely - it could be proposed in the Senate, he said. While the House has often been zealous over the years at protecting its turf when it comes to introducing tax bills, Denney said, “I think the Constitution is fairly specific on all revenue-raising measures starting in the House. It doesn’t say anything about tax cuts, and it doesn’t say anything about tax policy.” Local-option tax legislation merely authorizes changes in tax policy, Denney said - it doesn’t raise any revenue.
He said there’s also another way local-option backers could get their bill enacted - they could go directly to voters with an initiative. The Legislature can overturn voter-passed initiatives, and it’s done so on a few notable occasions. But Denney said he wouldn’t try to overturn a voter-passed local-option tax measure. “If you allow the people to vote and they say that’s what they want, sure, I could live with it,” he said.
House Tax Chairman Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, said he has clear instructions from the speaker. “If there’s no constitutional amendment, it goes to him,” he said. “I may get it back later.” Asked if he had any problem with that, Lake said, “That’s his call - I work for him, he’s my boss.”
Senate Tax Chairman Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, released a guest opinion this week opposing a constitutional amendment. “All agree that a constitutional amendment is not required, but by placing the provision in the Constitution, future legislatures will find it very difficult to ever rescind the local-option taxing authority or change the requirements for its implementation,” he wrote. “Idaho’s 2009 Legislature can thereby ensure that its preferences and priorities are binding on all legislatures in the future. However, the notion that today’s lawmakers are better equipped to make responsible decisions than future legislators is unwarranted.”
Idaho local governments have few ways to raise funds for local needs other than the property tax, the state’s most-hated tax.