It appears that the secrecy has ended: Notice has been officially posted on the Legislature’s website here of an upcoming Oct. 6 meeting of the Tax Working Group, and co-chairs Sen. Jeff Siddoway and Rep. Gary Collins have declared that from this point on, the group’s meetings will be open to the public just like any other interim legislative committee.
“When we formed the group and we were appointed chairs, then I felt like this is knocking on the door of interim committee-type stuff,” Siddoway told Eye on Boise. “And if we’re going to be an interim committee, even though we weren’t authorized during the legislative session and formally put together, it’s starting to feel like that to me. So if we’re going to go forward, I darn sure want to follow all the rules that any interim committee would be expected to follow. And of course, part of that is the open meeting laws and the notices and all that stuff.”
The group had met quietly earlier this month, with only a paper notice posted and no audio-streaming or advance notice on the Internet; all but one of the 12 lawmakers named to the panel reportedly attended. In addition to Siddoway and Collins, they include Sens. Steve Vick, Jim Guthrie, Abby Lee, Lori Den Hartog, and Grant Burgoyne, and Reps. Dell Raybould, Robert Anderst, Tom Dayley, and Mat Erpelding; Rep. Janet Trujillo missed that meeting.
That followed several joint leadership meetings over the summer to discuss tax policy, including a trip to Utah by a group of legislative leaders to discuss modified flat-tax legislation that state passed nearly a decade ago.
Siddoway said he attended the Utah meeting, along with Collins, House Speaker Scott Bedke, Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, and representatives from the Legislative Services Office and the governor’s office, but then missed the next meeting because he was fishing in Alaska. In Utah, Siddoway said, “They said it took them seven years to get that tax overhaul done.”
Siddoway noted that he took a stand in the last legislative session, opposing any further tax cuts until Idaho raised its teacher salaries. The message he’s gotten from the meetings thus far, he said, is that there’s interest in trying to get away from the annual “train wrecks” at the end of each year’s legislative session, where House-passed tax legislation arrives in the Senate and dies there without a hearing; and that there’s interest in examining reforms to Idaho’s tax system possibly both in the coming year and in the long term.
He said the two tax chairs were told to appoint members to the working group, but not to have a quorum from either of their committees on it. “There’ll never be a real vote, and even if there is a vote, it doesn’t matter because everything depends on what the Legislature and the governor decide to do with any proposal that comes out of here,” Siddoway said. “Up ‘til now, it’s taken four meetings or three meetings to come up with even what we’re going to look at,” he said. But he said, “I thought after that last meeting … I thought we’re obligated to do the open meeting deal. … It was just posted there in the Capitol, it wasn’t put out anyplace. That’s not good enough. We need to get this deal out, advertise. It’s a public process. Whoever wants to come and set.”
The agenda for the Oct. 6 meeting includes a presentation from state economist Derek Santos on Idaho’s current “tax expenditures,” which are existing exemptions, credits and deductions; one from state Commerce Director Jeff Sayer on economic trends relating to small and large businesses in Idaho; and a presentation from legislative budget analyst Keith Bybee on comparisons of Idaho tax rates to other states.