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Sales tax amendment splits transit group

Fri., March 14, 2008

BOISE – A move to impose steep hurdles to new local-option sales taxes in Idaho has fractured a coalition pushing for such financing for mass transit and road work to ease congestion, slash air pollution and fix the state’s battered highways.

A proposed constitutional amendment, in the making since the start of the legislative session, was introduced Thursday in the House Revenue and Taxation Committee on a 13-5 vote with all Republicans supporting it.

The amendment would require a two-thirds majority of voters to approve future local-option sales taxes, up from 60 percent. If the proposed tax would overlap counties, than the two-thirds threshold would have to be met in every one of them. That’s to prevent counties with large populations from overwhelming smaller ones.

Moving Idaho Forward, a coalition that includes about 70 businesses and local governments hoping to pass local-option sales taxes, is divided on the measure.

Should the proposal survive the Legislature, voters would have the final say in November. House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, said constitutional sideboards are needed to shield taxpayers from future legislators who might try to lower the two-thirds majority hurdle.

“When we raise taxes, it ought to be as difficult as possible,” Moyle said. “It ought to be hard, and you ought to have to sell what you’re doing.”

Gov. Butch Otter supported the plan in a letter to the committee. “It will ensure that local units of government are unfailingly accountable to a clear and convincing segment of citizens and that use of taxpayer dollars is pursued with the highest degree of frugality and efficiency,” he wrote.

The Idaho Association of Counties has said it could live with the plan, but the Association of Idaho Cities has found it unacceptable.

Minority Democrats on the House tax panel criticized the plan.

They accused Moyle, an anti-tax hawk, of pushing the constitutional amendment as a political ploy to stall local option efforts.

“What we’re doing is just delaying opportunities for discussion on transportation,” said House Minority Leader Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum. “It’s a political year. It’s a way for some people to say they’ve worked on local option.”


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