Around the country, only seven states charge the maximum sales tax on groceries. Unfortunately, Idaho is one of them. That’s why I voted this past session to repeal the sales tax on groceries. I don’t believe government should be dipping its hands into our grocery bags. This is especially true for cities and towns along Idaho’s borders who bleed grocery shoppers to states that do not tax food. Not only are we losing grocery dollars across the border, but also money people spend at retail outlets and restaurants before or after they shop. The grocery tax repeal is common-sense tax reform for working families that doubles as economic development legislation.
The saga of the grocery tax repeal took an interesting turn recently when 30 lawmakers filed a lawsuit alleging that the governor missed his veto deadline by a day. Whether they will prevail remains to be seen. The real question is: How did we get here in the first place?
The answer is a lack of leadership. Instead of putting working Idahoans first at the beginning of the session, the majority proposed a silver-spoon tax plan to benefit a few Idahoans at the expense of the rest of us. While high-income Idahoans would have seen $750 in annual savings under the proposal, working families would have been stuck with a lousy $32. It’s what I like to call the “gas tank & Happy Meal” tax plan because that’s about all it would buy for the average Idahoan. The Democratic leaders in the Senate were instrumental in amending this harmful tax bill into the grocery tax repeal. Faced with no choice but to vote in favor of it, House Republicans passed the amended bill, which Gov. Butch Otter ultimately vetoed.
All of that took up valuable legislative time that could have gone toward debating sensible tax reform. Instead, we had to take up the grocery tax issue late in the session. As a result, the bill hit the governor’s desk after the session ended. Despite veto-proof margins, the Legislature never had the chance to exercise its constitutional right of override. This lack of leadership and the governor’s (potential) carelessness proved to be a recipe for disruption. Now the majority’s dirty laundry will be aired in court where anything could happen. This is not governing. This is chaos.
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Surveys consistently show that education, health care and the economy are the most important issues to Idahoans. They are complicated issues that require diligent lawmakers with creative solutions and a larger plan for Idaho’s future. Idaho leaves thousands of high-paying jobs unfilled each year, amounting to tens of millions of dollars in lost salary because we lack an educated workforce. Seventy-eight thousand Idahoans go without health care when we could be leveraging our state dollars 9-to-1 to “close the gap.” Democrats consistently propose solutions to tap into that prosperity. The majority seems content with dysfunction. We need serious lawmakers willing to make hard decisions during the legislative session — not afterward in court. If the majority can’t keep its house in order, maybe it’s time for a change.
Rep. Mat Erpelding, a District 19 Democrat, is the Idaho House minority leader.