2/3 rule for tax hikes, breaks fails in Idaho House

THURSDAY, MARCH 22, 2012, 4:50 P.M.

BOISE - Freshman North Idaho Sen. Steve Vick’s proposed constitutional amendment to require two-thirds votes not only for any tax increase, but also for any fee hike or the removal or reduction of any tax break, was killed in the Idaho House on Thursday.

The measure, HJR 1, actually got a bare majority - 37-33 - but not the required two-thirds, or 47 votes in favor.

“It’s late, it was probably too late to have it heard in the Senate anyway,” Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, said after the vote. “But I wanted to know what people’s concerns on it were.”

If he’s re-elected, he said, “I do plan on bringing it back in the future.”

House Tax Chairman Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, said he liked the idea of a two-thirds requirement for tax or fee hikes - but not the part about making it harder to reduce or eliminate tax breaks.

“You lost me” with that part, he said. “We have, in this state, literally hundreds of exemptions and deductions that have been enacted for one reason or another … that will be locked into place,” Lake told the House. “They was all put there with a simple majority vote, and now we’re going to take a two-thirds to remove them. … Until that section of the bill is removed, I can’t support it.”

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said, “I submit that Idaho has not done too badly controlling expenses and keeping ourselves in a relatively healthy fiscal state. I think that there could be an argument that an additional barrier does nothing except impair our ability to continue to manage successfully.”

He also said the measure, as written, appears to rule out the state’s current procedures for fee increases by agency rule-making within statutorily set limits.

Rep. Dell Raybould, R-Rexburg, questioned whether the two-thirds rule would apply to farm commodity commission fees, which are generated “not from the general taxpayers, but from the users of a particular product.” The answer: Yes.

Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, the measure’s House sponsor, said he didn’t think that would be a problem, because two-thirds of lawmakers would likely support whatever changes in commodities fees groups like the Wheat Commission or Barley Commission want.

Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa, said, “If it takes two-thirds … all I have to do is get one-third and one person, and I can stop it. So it seems like to me you’re putting the power into the one-third, more than the power into the two-thirds.”

Luker said, “This really is a philosophical issue, and that’s do we have taxes to grow government or to serve the people?”

To amend Idaho’s Constitution, a measure must get both two-thirds approval from each house of the Legislature, and a majority vote of the people at the next general election.

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