Rep Bill Killen and a group of us in the House just made an attempt to amend House Bill 599, a bill which shifts $120 million in business personal property taxes onto the sales tax. The Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry (IACI), the big industry lobby and the sponsors of 599 moved the bill to the amending order to fix constitutional concerns brought up by the Attorney General. We rushed to prepare and Rep. Killen submitted amendments to the Speaker to compete with theirs.
After some debate about which amendment would go first, the drafts were passed out by pages onto to the desks of 70 members of the house. Which amendment goes first can matter because sometimes, once one amendment passes, the other is moot. For that reason our amendment went last. Our amendment gutted their bill and replaced it with a far more simple and more equitable $50,000 personal property tax exemption for all businesses. This would cost taxpayers only $9 million in sales tax dollars rather than $120 million and would benefit small businesses most since about 80% of businesses have less than $50,000 in personal property to be taxed.
The procedure for Amendments is quite elaborate. Normally the floor session where the 70 of us vote on bills is run by the Speaker. To amend bills the floor session is dissolved and the Majority Caucus Chair, Rep Scott Bedke, takes the podium as Chairman of "The Committee of the Whole." Rep Killen addressed the Chairman and fielded questions from all over the floor with precision and poise. We debated the shift to taxpayers, the impact to the county's ability to borrow and the lack of guarantee that the replacement moneys will be adequate to cover county services (from hospitals to needed fire, ambulance, schools and more.)
In the end the Chaiman for our Committee of the Whole closed debate. Normally we make a voice vote on amendments which is not recorded. Someone requested "division" which means we vote instead by standing or sitting in response to "all those in favor" and "all those opposed." I had called JoAn Wood to ask her to second Bill's motion to amend (this is a formality where we have a second person listed on the sheet which looks like a regular bill. In this case it was a thick packet.Lenore Barrett argued that since the amendment was longer than the original bill, everyone should vote no. An amendment often has to be longer because it includes section that have been changed or language to be eliminated.)
When we rose for division, only Diana Thomas from Emmett stood with the six of us Democrats on the balcony. I could see Leon Smith and Jim Marriot standing downstairs but most people are not visible from upstairs. I'm sure JoAn stood.
It is amazing the power IACI has over this place some days. I would have said their power was waning when they changed their organization to represent only the biggest businesses in Idaho. They did a lot of work on this year's bill but we have labored to to make sure that Idahoans see the cost of this legislation and who pays that cost. They can call it apple pie and economic development but in the end it is just a $90 million give-away to some of the biggest industry in the state, much of which is publicly traded and will go to shareholders, not to employees through the kind of trickle down IACI insists will occur. Small businesses we know would invest those dollars in wages, benefits and local expenditures which might benefit families and the economy. That can be said of many who benefit most from IACI's bill.
The benefit to small business is fully granted by the $50,000 exemption amendment we proposed. And our amendment would not have carried with it the $90 million tax shift that comes if the bill is passes exactly as IACI wants it to.