Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, said lawmakers did nothing wrong by holding a covert tax meeting early last month.
Siddoway, the head of the Senate’s Local Government and Taxation Committee, suggested some characterizations of the group’s activities might be misguided.
“Legislators meet all the time,” Siddoway wrote in an email. “Even when we meet socially we discuss legislation. We are legislators.”
The group wants to tinker with Idaho’s tax code, but there’s no clear purpose other than studying reform.
The panel’s most recent meeting, which did come with a paper notice and was held in a Capitol rooming without video or audio streaming capabilities, featured key members of House and Senate leadership, including Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, and Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley. Siddoway participated, as did his House counterpart, Revenue and Taxation Chair Gary Collins, R-Nampa.
“The first meeting called by the Pro Tem and Speaker was just to listen and ask questions of Utah's folks on how they went about tax reform, how long it took and what kind of information they had to have to succeed,” Siddoway said. Subsequent meetings included other lawmakers, including minority leaders.
He offered a thorough explanation of the committee’s purpose and direction:
The leaders never took a vote but simply asked if by consensus of the majority and minority leaders if there should be an interim committee formed to look at three ideas. First, look at a way to avoid the end of session wreck. Second, look at tax relief or changes to the system that may be doable this coming session. Third, look at long term changes that make taxes more fair to all payers and simplify the system. That third directive may include looking at the tax commission and structure, also. So, quite frankly, I don't know where we are going. I don't know how long the trip will be. Nor do I have any real desire to drive the process except to make it easier and more fair.
We, none of us, have broken any rules or laws as far as open meetings. We intend to hold a lot of public meetings. We have no predetermined outcomes.
The Lewiston Tribune’s Marty Trillhaase exposed the committee late last month and blasted leadership for allowing the process behind closed doors.
“Nor has there been any advance word, foiling any pesky citizen who would like to attend one of these sessions,” Trillhaase wrote. “Why the stealth?”
After the ensuing media bluster, lawmakers reversed course and opened meetings to the public.
Still, Siddoway denied any improprieties. “There is no mischief going on here,” he wrote.
Senate Pro Tem Brent Hill echoed that message. Hill said in an email that leadership followed all rules and procedures governing the process.
The tax panel held its first open meeting Tuesday at the Capitol in Boise. Outgoing Department of Commerce Director Jeff Sayer told the group Idaho needs tax relief, but shouldn’t give it at the expense of investing in a “talented workforce.”