Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Legislature debating issues to the end


Clint Stennett

Democrat Clint Stennett, of Ketchum, is the minority leader of the Idaho Senate. He represents District 25, which includes Blaine County.

By CLINT STENNETT

It is always guesswork this time of year to calculate when the legislative session will end, but it will likely be this week. Last week I was pleased to witness senators strike a compromise on the bill that would remove personal property taxes from business (H599).

As a business owner of multiple businesses over the past 25 years, I understand the frustration and minutia every year with personal property tax. Yet, I was concerned about this bill because it removed $120 million from local budgets without any replacement funds. Senate Democrats suggested that an exemption of $50,000 be given to businesses instead of the complete repeal, because it removed the tax for about 85 percent of the businesses and still left $100 million for local budgets.

We found some middle ground on the issue and the bill was amended to permit a $75,000 exemption and to use $15 million of state funds to help keep local budgets whole. This leaves local budgets with 100 percent of their revenue and provides relief to 86 percent of Idaho's businesses. Small businesses and entrepreneurs drive the economy, and this bill will help them succeed. The amended bill passed the Senate unanimously. If it passes the House, the exemption will begin January of 2009.

Still to be hashed out this session are the issues of the constitutional amendment (HJR4) that would permit local governments a local option sales tax authority by a two-thirds vote. For many sessions now, local governments have been asking for this to address their local needs; the most pressing issue is transportation.

Supporters of the amendment argue that it is necessary to have this protection for taxpayers. Yet a two-thirds super majority vote on the general election ballot for a local option sales tax is overreaching. This constitutional amendment is unnecessary. Local governments are often more responsive to the needs of their constituency and should be permitted to govern accordingly.

Also to be voted on this session is the "modified primary bill." This bill (S1506) requires a party registration system to vote in a publicly funded primary election. Requiring a public declaration on your party affiliation is an infringement of your privacy. With this bill, your party preference (Democrat, Republican or Independent) would be public information.

There's a reason the secret ballot is treated with such care and reverence when you appear at your election poll. Can you imagine being required to request a party ballot in some of the smaller precincts and towns, where everyone knows everyone? Even in the larger communities, do you want your name in the paper or on some Web site under a party registration identification program? The truth is that only a secret ballot truly renders a true picture of the public will. If individuals have to show their preferred ballot to the public, powerful politicians might use retribution or intimidation to change the outcome.

The Republican Party has the right to exercise their right to associate, and I respect that. Yet. they are exercising their right on the public's dollar and at the expense of your privacy. This new registration is going to be expensive and time consuming for the state ($418 million). If the Republicans want a private primary they should pay for it themselves, like the Democrats do with their own caucuses.

As always, I welcome any suggestions, or comments you have to offer. It is my honor to serve District 25. I can be reached by calling (208) 332-1000 or toll-free at (800) 626-0471, via e-mail at stennett@senate.idaho.gov, or by mail to P.O. Box 83720, Boise, ID 83720.




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