Writings and observations

We have suspected that the idea of putting a cigarette tax increase (the money going toward a statewide child health program) on the Oregon ballot probably would be a winner. Apparently, that’s better than a mere suspicion.

Loaded Orygun has a detailed post on polling that covers just this subject; it is highly recommended reading. With some caveats noted, the bottom line seems to be: Support for such a measure seems to outweigh opposition by about two to one.

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There hasn’t been much notice of the substance because the bill in question sounds so boring, but we’ll note here that Idaho Governor Butch Otter has issued a veto. (The fact of the veto has gotten some attention; the substance, little.) It’s just one veto (so far) to the 33 or so bills he has thus far signed into law, and it doesn’t portend any great political conflict. But as it offers an indicator of priorities, let’s pause for a moment.

The measure in question is House Bill 8, and the short legislative description of it is that it “Amends existing law to provide that a notice of levy and distraint be sent by regular first class mail instead of certified mail when collecting state taxes.” (Please don’t fall asleep; this gets a little more interesting.) It generated no major debate; it passed the Idaho House 64-2 and the Senate 35-0.

It was a small-government, or cut-government-cost, measure, proposed by the State Tax Commission (whose members are appointed by the governor). Here is its statement of purpose: “Current law requires the Tax Commission to send a notice of levy to taxpayers by certified mail. This costs about $28,000 annually to send more than 10,000 notices. Almost half are returned as refused or unclaimed. Changing the certified mail requirement to first class mail will likely result in more taxpayers actually receiving the notice more cost effectively.”

So . . . what’s the rationale outweighing this?

Here’s the core of Otter’s veto statement, explaining:

House Bill 008 proposes a single change to Idaho Code section 63-3061A as it relates to the notice a taxpayer receives when property is seized to satisfy debt for past taxes, interest, and penalties. The change would allow the Idaho State Tax Commission to provide notice to a property owner by first class mail, instead of certified mail.

It is anticipated that the Idaho State Tax Commission could save up to $25,000 in operation costs under this proposed change. I strongly encourage saving tax dollars and achieving cost savings within state government; however, this specific cost savings is minimal and inappropriate compared with the potential costs to property owners across Idaho.

Idaho has a long tradition of protecting and promoting private property rights. The Idaho Constitution sets forth the inalienable right to acquire, possess and protect property. This right is paramount to a free and prosperous society. To that end, there are many processes established under state law to protect property and an owner’s interests in it.

Title 63, section 3061A of the Idaho Code is no exception. Two years ago, the Idaho Legislature created a formal process for notifying property owners when their property was to be seized for tax debts. Notice in these situations is critical for property owners to defend any rights or interests in their property, and using certified mail provides greater assurance that notice is actually received.

Although some may argue that the additional cost of using certified mail is unnecessary, it is an appropriate safeguard that we owe property owners. For these reasons, I cannot support diminishing the process established under title 63, section 3061A of the Idaho Code as proposed by House Bill 008.

So what trumps government savings? Private property rights.

Not to argue here that Otter is necessarily wrong; he makes a fair point here. But this first veto message does offer some insight into the new governor’s order of priorities.

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