Every year, the Idaho Legislature reviews various proposed rules submitted by state agencies and departments to determine if they are appropriate and consistent with state statute and legislative intent.
One such rule change proposed by the Idaho Barley Commission would remove the fixed barley tax rate from the rule entirely. Why would it do such a thing?
According to the commission's explanation listed in the "descriptive summary" section of the proposed rule change, the alteration is being recommended because "removing the tax rate from rule gives the Commission the flexibility to adjust the barley assessment tax upon a vote of the commission ..." Idaho statute doesn't set the tax; instead it merely puts a cap on it—currently up to $.04 tax per hundredweight.
Instead of establishing the actual tax rate by rule as is done now (currently $.02 tax per hundredweight), this change would allow the commission to increase the tax at any time (up to the cap) without seeking approval from the Legislature. Not only does this allow for easier and more frequent tax increases, but it also reduces transparency and the opportunity for citizens and legislators alike to weigh in on the process.
According to a representative from the Idaho Barley Commission, the rule change is "to implement legislation that was passed by the  Legislature, which eliminated a very specific reference to our assessment rate. It empowered the board to set the assessment in a range not to exceed 4 cents per hundredweight, so the rule change is just striking a specific reference to 2 cents per hundredweight."
The legislation being referenced is Senate Bill 1304 (2012) which replaced the word "two (2)" with the words "up to four (4)" in referencing the tax in cents per hundredweight. The bill, which was passed and is now in statute, does not require or specify that the tax rate be removed from rule or that the commission be given carte blanche to make changes to the rate without legislative oversight.
There are already very real questions about why a government commission is engaged in the "protection, promotion, study, research, analysis and development of markets concerning the growing and marketing of Idaho barley" when that is clearly a more proper function for the private sector, but this latest proposal is simply too egregious to go unchallenged.
Idaho needs more transparency and greater opportunity to resist tax hikes, not fewer. The rule change proposed by the Idaho Barley Commission moves the needle in the wrong direction. Idahoans deserve better and more accountable government, not more decisions being made by unelected commissions.
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