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Disappointment as Otter rejects grocery tax repeal

Disappointment as Otter rejects grocery tax repeal

Dustin Hurst
January 12, 2015
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January 12, 2015

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter rejected this week the full repeal of Idaho’s grocery tax, a move that would have given families more buying power and cut government waste.

That has some residents disappointed in the governor.

In a press conference late last week, Otter, serving the first year of his third term, told reporters the grocery tax repeal isn’t part of his 2015 agenda.

Otter did, though, tout the expansion of the grocery rebate, which allows residents to receive a check back from the state for taxes paid during the year, during his State of the State address delivered Monday at the Capitol in Boise. Those checks, usually $100 per person in each household, come after Idahoans file income tax returns.

Some, including the Idaho Freedom Foundation and various lawmakers, think the state should eliminate the tax altogether and join with neighboring states that either don’t levy taxes on food or levy lower rates.

The idea makes sense for some. Idaho Freedom Foundation President Wayne Hoffman points out that more than 65,000 Idahoans file income tax returns only to secure the rebate checks from the state. Ending the tax would mean 65,000 fewer tax returns for the state to handle each year.

But there’s opposition to the plan. Otter didn’t explain why he opposes repeal, but House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, told IdahoReporter.com on Monday that by ending the program the state would lose out on dollars from illegal immigrants, who don’t file returns. Idaho would also lose out on taxes for groceries bought by tourists, Moyle pointed out.

Instead, the majority leader wants to see further expansion of the credit, so the state continues catching taxes from non-residents.

“I hate the grocery tax,” Moyle said, “but I’d rather see the expansion of the credit, though.”

Others are less firm in their position on the issue. Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, said he’s undecided. “I can go either way,” he said.

In a perfect world, Palmer said, lawmakers would close all exemptions and lower the overall tax rate, a move that would make Idaho’s taxation fairer and more equal. But if a bill comes through to end the grocery tax, Palmer’s all in.

“I would support it 100 percent,” he said.

Some Idahoans hope 2015 will be the year lawmakers remove the tax for good. Sharon Hileman, a 69-year-old Army veteran from Middleton, told IdahoReporter.com, it’s the morally responsible thing to do.

“Having lived in Minnesota, Texas, Oregon, Arizona and now in Idaho, I find the grocery tax here to be insulting,” Hileman said. “Idaho is the only state of these five where I am charged for the right to stay alive.”

Arvid Myhre, a farmer from Cambridge, said Idaho, a Republican-dominated state, is embarrassing itself by taxing food when some of the biggest Democratic-controlled states don’t.

“Even in California where almost everything is highly taxed, there are no taxes on staple food items like eggs, meat/fish, milk, bread, fruits, vegetables and flour,” Myrhe said. “There surely must be a better way to raise revenue than to punish the poorest among us by taxing their food.”

Note: The Idaho Freedom Foundation publishes IdahoReporter.com. 

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