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Posts published in “Idaho column”

The little-known tax

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

If you're an Idaho taxpayer, you may be an Idaho tax scofflaw and not even know it.

Probably few Idahoans know about the use tax, and probably fewer pay all of it that is owed.

The use tax is a kind of counterpart to the much better-known sales tax. When you buy a product in Idaho, you are (in most cases) charged a sales tax, which the seller in turn has to forward to the state. Suppose you buy something in Oregon or Montana (or, for that matter, Alaska, Delaware or New Hampshire) – one of the five states that do not charge sales tax – and bring it back to Idaho? That can amount to significant money in the case of something like furniture or a car. That way, you can avoid sales tax and cut six percent off your cost, right?

Idaho law has considered this, and it imposes a use tax. If you buy it over the border and bring it back to Idaho to “use,” you have to pay the equivalent of the sales tax. The state is fairly rigorous on the car front, since autos used by Idahoans have to be registered in Idaho.

Generally, the use tax has to be “self-assessed,” sort of an honor system. Every now and then the Tax Commission, to which it is supposed to be paid, issues a statement on the subject. Last week, for example, it advised (in advance of income tax filings):

“Check your invoices to see whether sales tax was collected on the following purchases, which may require a use tax payment: Magazine subscriptions; Book and record clubs; Out-of-state catalog purchases; Merchandise bought over the Internet (including digital music, movies, books, games, etc.); Purchases in a state where no sales tax is charged; Untaxed purchases of merchandise from Idaho vendors. If sales tax was not collected, Idaho makes it easy for taxpayers to pay their use tax when they file their annual income tax return, which is due by April 15.  Simply total your untaxed purchases, multiply that total by .06, and enter that amount, rounded to the nearest dollar, on the appropriate line of your income tax return.” (more…)

Priorities

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

No one living in Idaho or in other states should be unaware how the cost of health care, and insurance for it, has ballooned in the last few decades, driving people into individual ruin and straining businesses and other organizations (and economic recovery). A brush with a hospital is flirtation with bankruptcy – and it has meant bankruptcy for many. That's true even for the insured, who find their protections eroding each year. And the number of uninsured sits at about 16 percent of all people nationally, 18 percent in Idaho (21 percent among those 64 and younger). This is an enormous problem.

There is no one cause and no one answer. One tactic intended to help, one that makes use of a marketplace, is an insurance exchange: An organization allowing buyers of insurance to shop around, compare costs and benefits and get assistance, in a way they haven't been able to. Such a plan was built into the 2010 Affordable Care Act, and in it states were given the option to set up exchanges.

That's the background for House Bill 248, which would establish by the state of Idaho an exchange aimed at helping consumers of health insurance to locate and buy appropriate policies. Alternatively, the feds would establish one in Idaho. The bill passed 41-29, after more than seven hours of debate.

You might suppose that long debate, one of Idaho's longest legislative debates in decades, would have centered on the problems and costs of health care and insurance. You would suppose wrong.

The bill's stated “purpose and intent” begins, “It is the public policy of the state of Idaho to actively resist federal actions that would limit or override state sovereignty under the 10th amendment of the United States constitution. Through this legislation, the state of Idaho asserts its sovereignty ...”

That framing overwhelmed the debate. The need of Idahoans for affordable health care and insurance, whether the exchange was a good solution, whether this specific model might be improved upon: These were touched upon almost not all. The course of debate suggested the health (in effect, the safety) of Idaho's people wasn't of significant interest. Maybe the closest graze came from the conservative Representative JoAn Wood, who aptly noted the absence of strong consumer protections in the bill. The “sovereignty” of Idaho seemed the lone general concern – that, and taking potshots at anyone federal. (more…)

Improvements over time

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

The Idaho territorial sesquicentennial celebration is now properly underway, with ceremonies involving an Abe Lincoln stand-in and much else, much of it centered around Boise, which was one of the few stable communities then existing in the new territory.

The bash may be widely taken as an honorific to what happened back then. It should be better taken as recognition of how far Idaho has come since 1863 (and yes, I'll say that even with the legislature in session). Celebrations of history have a tendency toward whitewash, and that may be liberally applied this year.

Consider pioneer Sheriff David C. Updyke.

Ada County (then including what are now Canyon and Payette counties as well) was one of Idaho's first, established in December 1864. Boiseans looking for law enforcement quickly chose Updyke, electing him early in 1865 as their first sheriff, to lead that effort. He was an energetic man, open to confrontation and experienced with using his firearms. Just what a barely-settled new county needed. Or so they thought.

Updyke was a native of New York, where got into enough varied trouble as to be strongly advised to take his act elsewhere – far away elsewhere. He moved to California, hearing tales of gold, but too late for the mining rush there, and unhappily settled for work as a stage driver. When he heard about the first strike in the Boise River Valley (in what wasn't yet known as Idaho) he raced there to find his fortune. He found just enough metallic scraps to invest in a couple of new businesses in the start-up town of Boise, but Updyke's thirst for more was still acute. (more…)

Busting the Club

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

Idaho voters may despise Congress, but they do not often throw out their own members – they've done it just four times in the last half-century. Less often than that do the voters of a party reject an incumbent of their own party for another term.

The last time it happened was almost 40 years ago, in 1974, when Orval Hansen, a three-term incumbent in the second district, was defeated in the primary by former Representative George Hansen. The campaign was messy and a number of factors, some of them personal to the candidates, were at play. But the ideological dynamic was one familiar to Idaho voters today: The challenge to Orval by George was seen as a challenge of the right against a more moderate conservative.

You wonder if the Club for Growth is doing a little research on that election.

The Club, which made a splash in Idaho in 2006, is described in Wikipedia as “a fiscally conservative 501(c)4 organization active in the United States of America, with an agenda focused on taxation and other economic issues. … According to its website, the Club for Growth's policy goals include cutting income tax rates, repealing the estate tax, limited government and a Balanced Budget Amendment, entitlement reform, free trade, tort reform, school choice, and deregulation.” It does not much compromise on any of that.

In 2006, when Idaho had an open seat in the first district, it threw massive money and support to then-legislator Bill Sali, enough that you could fairly say it was the number one reason Sali won his primary and general election that year. One piece of evidence is that in 2008, when Sali ran as an incumbent, the Club stayed out of the race, and Sali lost.

Now the Club is signaling it wants in again, time targeting 2nd District Representative Mike Simpson, now an eight-term member and probably the member of the Idaho delegation with the most clout within Congress. He describes himself as a conservative, and certainly is a loyal member of the House Republican caucus, and close to House Speaker John Boehner. (more…)

Closer to home

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

Here's an idea to get your mind around: A legislature in which you're represented by two rather than three state lawmakers, with legislators elected from 105 rather than 35 districts. In which the number of legislators overall is the same as it is right now.

Welcome to the way Oregon apportions its legislature, and the way a group of legislators in Washington state – a liberal and a moderate Democrat and a conservative Republican – are proposing it be done there. A way that could be done, too, in Idaho.

It's less complicated than I made it sound a couple of paragraphs back, and barely more complicated than what Idaho does now. Idaho has (and has had since 1966, with a six-year interruption) 35 districts, roughly equal in population, each represented by one senator and two representatives. Washington state does the same with 49 districts.

Oregon has 90 legislators, and like the other two has twice as many representatives as senators. But its districts are different. It has 30 Senate districts; on the House level each of those Senate districts is split in half, those halves each electing one representative, 60 in all. For a total of 90. That gives each representative a smaller group of constituents to worry about, and theoretically at least gives the voters better access to and more influence with their representative. You could argue that it makes the House “closer to the people” without increasing the number of legislators.

A bill proposed by three Washington House members, liberal Democrat Hans Dunshee, moderate Democrat Dawn Morrell and conservative Republican Hans Zeiger (inevitably, the “Hans and Hans bill”) has been introduced there instructing the next redistricting commission (which Washington, like Idaho but unlike Oregon, has) to split up the legislature in the separate-House-district way.

In Washington, that would mean House districts of about 70,000 people instead of the current 140,000. In Idaho, that would mean House districts of about 22,500 people each rather than 45,000 or so. (more…)

Fig leaf

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

Idaho House Bill 179 is an unusual thing – a cart positioned before the horse, that actually may help pull it.

It's what usually is called a “trailer bill,” which ordinarily is a measure intended to correct an error or clarify something in another bill that has passed or is about to. This one is unusual in that it has been drafted and introduced before the main bill has reached either the Senate or House floor, while there's still plenty of time to amend it. Which, under ordinary circumstances and in most years, is what might have happened.

But then, HB 179 also bears a close resemblance to another kind of legislative creation – the fig leaf – and that's where the story most likely lies.

The subject at hand is one of the hottest topics of this year's Idaho legislative session, the health insurance exchange. Such an exchange is mandated one way or the other by federal law: Either the state can set one up (within certain requirements), or the feds will institute one. Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, no fan of the federal health care law, has argued (along with some legislative leaders, and many business community leaders) that Idaho would be better off with its own program. Critics, including much of the structure of the Idaho Republican Party and many (we don't know for certain how many) legislators are of a mind to say, “Hell no!” The bill (Senate Billl 1042) has cleared a Senate committee, but its future on the floor, and in the House, remain uncertain. (more…)

Journalists inside/outside

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

In 2001 I contracted with the Lewiston Tribune, then inconveniently between political reporters, to cover that year's Idaho legislative session. I handled some aspects of it, though, differently from the years before when I'd covered for other daily papers. I worked out of my home, for example.

And declined to join the Capitol Correspondents Association. I had been a member of it for more than a dozen years up through 1990, and my decision not to apply surprised a few people. But I had reasons.

This is inside baseballish stuff (my non-membership was never mentioned to Tribune readers, for example, and no one saw any need to) but the latest blasts involving the CCA and writers for the Idaho Reporter web site, carry implications worth sharing outside the Statehouse echo chamber.

The correspondents association, one of many similar organizations at statehouses around the country, is an odd beast. Its members are journalists who cover the legislature. A group aimed at letting people meet and associate is not a matter for controversy (Idaho lobbyists, by the way, have one too) But the CCA also has an official standing with the legislature, it negotiates, for example, where and when on chamber floors, and some other office space, journalists – not the public, and not lobbyists – can go.

All this had more significance once than it does now. I started covering the legislature using manual typewriters, and had to have needed a dedicated land line phone at a desk in the Statehouse. Now, the excellent and extremely productive Spokesman-Review reporter Betsy Russell (for years head of the CCA) jogs with her wireless computing devices from meeting to meeting, filing stories from events as they happen. The Statehouse has a good wireless system. That clunky comm of yore is irrelevant.

Even in 2001, I found no practical disadvantage functioning as a member of the public rather than a CCA member, and I see less difficulty with it now. (more…)

Where 20 counties came from

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

On February 11 Idaho will pass another anniversary, six years away from the centennial mark since it last created a new county. Caribou County, hacked away from Bannock County in 1919, is the youngest, though by only three days: Jerome County was formed the previous Saturday, its territory taken from Gooding and Lincoln counties (Jerome being situated in the middle).

These were not rare instances. Twenty counties, almost half of Idaho's current 44, were formed in the decade of the 1910s, all carved out of pieces of other counties. Most have in common relatively small geographical areas and small to midsized populations. Idaho's smallest county, Payette, was formed in 1917 from Canyon County. There was Adams in 1911 (from Washington), Benewah in 1915 (from Kootenai), Boundary in 1915 (from Bonner), Camas in 1917 (from Blaine), Lewis in 1911 (from Nez Perce), and so on. Many more Idaho counties were formed in the 1910s than in any other decade.

Why then?

One reason may have been a population boom. Idaho's head count doubled from 1900 to 1910, and by about half again during the 1910s. Many of the counties that split up in the 1910s had experienced huge growth; Lincoln County, which was split three times, went from 1,784 people in 1900 to 12,676 in 1910. In 1920, after the cut-ups, Lincoln was back down to 3,446, territory where it has remained since.

Another reason probably was transportation, and transportation expectations. The first two decades of the twentieth was transitional, between an established but lightly-populated state, and a state with significant population. In 1900 Idaho's population was about 162,000, fairly close to Nampa plus Meridian today. In 1920 it reached 432,000, making Idaho a whole different kind of place. Commerce and other reasons for travel were booming. (more…)

Gun control in the details

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

It's not true, as many people (outside the state no less than in) probably suspect, that Idaho has no laws controlling guns – which is to say, gun control.

Idaho surely is one of the most easy-going states on gun regulation, as the state was reminded this week after news reports (though it isn't really news) that elected officials, including legislators, have an automatic right under state law to carry concealed weapons.

But check out online the Idaho Code Title 18 Chapter 33 (the main but not exclusive set of statutes on guns), which is titled “firearms, explosives and other deadly weapons,” for a starter. It covers a range of subjects that might surprise many Idahoans. First on the list: “Every person having upon him any deadly weapon with intent to assault another is guilty of a misdemeanor.” In words, with intent to use it for any purpose other than sporting or, presumably, clear self-defense.

There's the ban on selling guns to minors (without parental consent), on carrying a concealed weapon “when intoxicated or under the influence of an intoxicating drink or drug,” on carrying firearms onto school property (though the legislature may reconsider that this year).

Best be careful parading around with a gun in view, too: “Every person who, not in necessary self-defense, in the presence of two (2) or more persons, draws or exhibits any deadly weapon in a rude, angry and threatening manner, or who, in any manner, unlawfully uses the same, in any fight or quarrel, is guilty of a misdemeanor.” “Rude” and “angry,” after all, are seen in a beholder's eye.

The Idaho laws define “firearm” and “weapon” in various places, but they don't match up with the Second Amendment, which refers to “arms”: “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” (The premise before those words - “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,” - having seemed largely to have escaped much discussion.)

What are “arms” taken to be? In Revolutionary days, they mostly meant muskets and cannon, but a quarter-millennium later “arms” means other things. We speak of nuclear arms, of chemical weapons, of drones and surface to air rockets, of IEDs, as well as Uzis and on down to the modest hunting rifle. (more…)

Labrador v. Otter?

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

Now that we're properly into 2013, time has come – yes, it has – to start looking at the political races of 2014. In Idaho, that starts with governor.

The most day-glo prospect, as we sit in January, is that of a Republican primary pitting incumbent Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter against Representative Raul Labrador. It's a prospect too that allows for a real choice for Idaho Republicans.

There's absolutely no certainty it'll play out that way. Otter has said he plans to run, but he may have been saying that for purposes of fundraising or avoiding lame duck status. Labrador has expressed some interest in running for governor, but the pull of Washington is often heady stuff. Neither may wind up filing for the office next year.

There are reasons it could happen, though. The guess here is that a big reason Otter ran for re-election in 2010 was that enough people (Republicans among them) had challenged his handling of the job, and Otter responds to challenges. He has one now. Otter is on the side of the Republican party that is more establishment-oriented and concerned with economic growth; while ideology is important to him, he has shown himself willing to bend on a variety of items. He, like the state's senators and Representative Mike Simpson, could be put in the “realist/pragmatist” camp. You can put on the relevant bill of goods for Otter establishing a state health insurance exchange, dumping immediate reconsideration of the Luna school laws, and improving the state's transportation system.

Those stands have put him distinctly and fiercely at odds with the part of the party that's more ideology-driven. Otter's recent intense lobbying of the state Republican organization for the insurance exchange, and party leaders' repudiation of it, was but one recent example.

And Labrador (along with Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, who seems to have been almost cast off by Otter) is very much a central figure in that more insurgent ideology group, one overlapping with the Tea Party but extending beyond it. He and Otter were in opposition (over gas tax policy) even back when Labrador was in the Idaho, not the U.S. House. In the Labrador-Simpson dustup in the last few weeks, Otter would clearly be placed closer to Simpson. (more…)