Last year, state Rep. Hilde Kellogg helped shoot down a colleague’s bill to change Idaho’s inequitable formula for sales tax distribution. It needed more work, the Post Falls Republican said. Then, she promised to sponsor a bill in 1998 to correct a problem that costs Kootenai County about $1.5 million yearly in lost revenue.
Well, a year has gone by and Kellogg is no closer to fixing the goofy formula. Apparently, Republican leadership didn’t think the issue was important enough for a study committee. Now, Kellogg again has promised to form a panel and to see that a bill is introduced - next year.
It seems that it’s always “next year” for the timid Republican legislators from North Idaho. Some of them came to power three years ago by telling voters it’s foolish to elect Democrats because they have little influence with the GOP-dominated Legislature. Yet, with Republicans now controlling 10 of 12 northern seats, issues important to North Idaho still go begging.
With an election year upon us, it’s time for North Idaho legislators not only to be seen in Boise but to be heard. They’ll have to shout, too. In 1998, legislators likely will be distracted with yet another abortion debate and lawmakers like House Speaker Mike Simpson preening for the media as they prepare to seek higher office.
Still, local legislators should fight to change the sales tax formula now, not next year. They also should continue their crusade to fix U.S. Highway 95 and push for some state funding of public school construction - or at least a lower supermajority percentage for school bond elections.
The sales tax formula penalizes fast-growing counties like Kootenai because it is based in part on business inventories from, believe it or not, 1965. As a result, booming counties, particularly those with a healthy tourism industry, are subsidizing stagnant ones. In recent years, Kootenai County officials have stumped for a funding change only to be ignored by their representatives.
On another issue, North Idaho legislators should line up behind state Sen. Jack Riggs’ effort to fund reconstruction of deadly Highway 95. The Coeur d’Alene Republican found public support for fixing the state’s only north-south route as he attended hearings with Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Evan Frasure this summer. Last year, Kellogg’s legislation for a statewide vote on a giant bond issue to upgrade Highway 95 passed the House but failed by one vote in Frasure’s Senate committee.
Something also should be done to help North Idaho school districts meet their dire building needs. Children are being crowded into inadequate and unsafe buildings, while the state continues to insist that school buildings are not its problem. State money should be put into school buildings.
And local legislators should join Gov. Phil Batt’s push for a constitutional amendment to lower the supermajority for bond votes from two-thirds to 60 percent.
Much needs to be done. It’s time for North Idaho Republicans to quit being wimps. , DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board