Quite a moment in Committee this morning. Chairman Lake banged the gavel and the 18 of us committee members were starting a to hear testimony from the public on a bill which had been granted a hearing with a majority vote the day before. Suddenly the chairman addressed the committee in his formal, friendly way and announced that we would have our hearing on a different draft of the bill instead, a substantially changed version which the committee did not pass and did not approve at any time, and in fact had not yet seen.
As Democrats, we sit together in a row at a leg of the table on one side of the room. We looked at each other and I raised my hand. I objected, pointing out that it was improper to substitute one bill with another bill, when the committee approved only the one of them. I also pointed out that it was particularly a problem that the changed bill would affect people in North Idaho who clearly were not at today’s hearing and would have not chance to comment on how the bill would affect them and the local option sales tax which they use for property tax relief.
The Chair shrugged off the discussion saying we’d take testimony. As the few speakers wrapped up, the chair announced that we would not vote today but would have a hearing instead tomorrow on the new bill. The chair mentioned that since we had "an agreement" in the last committee meeting to hear this other draft, we would do that instead of voting on the broad local option sales tax authority we had just heard testimony on.
You know sometimes it takes a second for an incongruity to register. When you hear it, there is that moment of delay while your memory registers that no such thing took place. Rep. Jaquet pointed out that we were part of no agreement at any time on this bill and that the agreement clearly took place within republican leadership. (There is no such agreement in the committee minutes.) Chairman Lake smiled and looked down ready to adjourn the meeting without a vote on the bill people had just come to testify on.
Rep. Jaquet raised her hand and made a motion to approve the existing bill anyway. She moved to send HB 688, the broad local option tax authority bill, to the floor with a due pass recommendation. Rep. Lake squirmed and smiled and said that it would be his call. Even with a motion on the table, he adjourned the committee, no vote, no other motion, just the gavel.
So you might wonder what would matter so much that the chairman would bend rules to change this bill and eliminate the ability for local communities to use a local option sales tax for property tax relief. If you think about all the ways that certain members of House Republican leadership have tried to stand in the way of local people’s ability to fund urgent local needs like public transportation, you realize it is likely that they recognize that property tax relief might be pretty popular use for a local sales tax, especially since communities in North Idaho already use local option for this purpose. It might even be popular enough that, when combined with a proposal to fund public transportation, it would easily pass by 2/3 majority, even in places like Star, Eagle and Canyon County. And well, even if it means eliminating a potential method of lowering property taxes, they seem to stop at nothing to stand in the way of this kind of progress. Light rail, street cars, a real bus system. Apparently, the last thing Rep. Moyle wants is having the local option legislation include anything that improves the chances that the Treasure Valley will ever use a 1/2 penny local sales tax to fund public transportation.