BOISE – A citizens group has filed a complaint against House Tax Chairwoman Dolores Crow, saying a group member who traveled from Moscow for a committee hearing this week wasn’t allowed to testify against a business tax-break bill.
“Judy was here ready to testify,” said Roger Sherman, program director for United Vision for Idaho. “She didn’t get that opportunity because the chair pre-empted it. She said, ‘We’ve had plenty of conversation about this bill.’ “
Crow, R-Nampa, said it was “an oversight” and an “honest mistake” when she called for the vote on the bill without giving economist Judith Brown a chance to speak. Brown was the only one signed up to testify. “All she had to do in that room that day was raise her hand and say, ‘Madam chairman, I signed up,’ ” Crow said.
The bill, HB 323, is the “small employer incentive act,” which will offer various tax breaks to businesses that create as few as 10 jobs paying $40,000 a year or more. It was passed quickly by the House Revenue and Taxation Committee on Wednesday with no discussion. Brown, director of the Idaho Center on Budget and Tax Policy, said she wanted to speak out against the bill. Her objections included the idea of subsidizing jobs that pay less than the median salary in some areas of the state – notably Boise – and the bill’s provisions to allow local property tax abatement at a county’s discretion.
“Property tax abatements do not pay for themselves – the economic literature is clear on this,” Brown said at a United Vision press conference Thursday. “Newcomers get a tax break, and existing residents have to pay for economic growth. … Chairman Crow closed out public testimony. As a result, your property taxes could be going up.”
Crow bristled at the criticism.
“It wouldn’t have made any difference on the outcome of the bill,” she said. “I try to be very fair. Sometimes I cut people short because I have to, not because I want to. I have never deliberately set out to cut someone out of a hearing.”
House Majority Leader Lawerence Denney said people frequently complain about Crow holding bills, rather than allowing hearings on them, but that’s a chairman’s prerogative. “I think it was just an oversight when she looked at the signup sheet,” Denney said. “Certainly, we’ll look into it.”
Crow’s position is somewhat unusual because all tax legislation starts in her committee. That’s because of a state constitutional provision that says legislation raising revenue must start in the House. For most issues, there are both House and Senate committee chairmen who could consider a legislative proposal, but if Crow doesn’t put a tax bill on her agenda, it doesn’t get a hearing.
Rep. Jim Clark, R-Hayden Lake, who serves on the committee, said he read Brown’s written testimony against HB 323 after Crow had it distributed to the committee Thursday morning. It also was included in the committee’s minutes.
“That was a good piece – she did some work,” Clark said. However, he said, “I don’t have a problem with the bill.”
Clark said Crow “runs a very efficient committee, is probably a good way to put it.” He said she’s killed four of his own proposed bills without hearings. “Chairmen can do that,” he said. “If chairmen don’t want to hear bills, they don’t hear ‘em.”
Bill Whittaker, a United Vision board member, said his organization is upset that Crow has blocked hearings for bills seeking to ensure that sales tax exemptions serve a defined public purpose and requiring more accountability for programs aimed at job creation. “We think that Chairman Crow has prevented full consideration of tax issues that are really important to all of the people in Idaho,” he said. “The people of Idaho deserve better. The heavy-handedness of Chairman Crow is an embarrassment to our state and an embarrassment to the Legislature.”
Crow said, “Sometimes I can be ornery, and sometimes they (people) don’t agree with me.”
She called the complaint “sophomoric,” and said, “All of this could’ve been avoided by coming to me and talking to me.”
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