Printed on: January 10, 2013

Otter's call for local option surprises tax committee chairman

By Dan Popkey
Idaho Statesman

BOISE -- The Legislature's new gatekeeper on taxes said he had no warning when Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter proposed authorizing local-option taxes in his State of the State speech.

"There was kind of a big pause when the governor mentioned that in his talk," said House Revenue and Taxation Committee chairman Gary Collins, R-Nampa. "At least my breath -- my breathing -- changed a little bit. That was a big surprise to me. I think it was to a lot of different people. I guess that will just be part of the conversation."

Collins spoke Wednesday morning shortly before his reconfigured committee began its first full business meeting with a review of rules proposed by the Tax Commission.

The committee held an organization session Tuesday.

Revenue-raising measures must start in the committee, which traditionally has been more conservative than its Senate counterpart, the Local Government and Taxation Committee.

Collins said his position on local-option hasn't changed since 2008, when he supported a House-passed constitutional amendment to allow voters to approve local taxes with a two-thirds supermajority.

The Senate rejected that proposal, in part, because local governments opposed the change as too restrictive.

Collins agrees with Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, one of seven holdovers on the 16-member committee, who said the two-thirds vote and constitutional status is necessary to protect taxpayers.

"That's what he's expressed to me, and I haven't changed my mind either," Collins said.

Otter said Monday that he doesn't require those two hurdles as part of his plan to help offset repeal of the personal property tax on business equipment. He conceded that the Legislature may be unwilling to enact local-option without the restrictions.

The governor's office has yet to supply Collins with a draft bill or any details. In his post-speech news conference Monday, Otter steadfastly refused to specify whether he was talking about sales taxes or income taxes or other local-option levies. He said the matter should be left to local officials and voters.

"I really haven't seen any (draft bills) or anything," Collins said.

But Collins plans to move ahead with hearings on repeal of the $141 million personal property tax.

"I'm sure we'll have something going on here within the next 10 days or two weeks," he said.

Moyle, who long has gotten most of what he wants in the committee, said he doesn't have a clear read on how the philosophical complexion of the new committee might influence Otter's proposals.

"I don't think any them know," Moyle said. "It's a learning curve for these new guys."