Election Central

Fulcher proposes repealing grocery tax, but faces high hurdles

Sens. Russ Fulcher and Cliff Bayer have drafted a bill to exempt food from Idaho’s 6 percent sales tax, saying that’s better policy than the grocery tax credit they helped enact in 2008.

“We really don’t think there should be a tax on food,” said Fulcher, R-Meridian, who started working with Bayer on the issue in 2006 when they represented the same southwest Ada County legislative district.

“There’s a fairness issue,” said Bayer, R-Boise, noting that 32 states don’t tax groceries. “It’s a necessity.”

Their measure would be effective July 1, 2016.

Repealing the sales tax on food would cut state sales tax revenues $172 million in fiscal 2017, Bayer said, but would be offset by repealing the tax credit. The net cost to the state is estimated at $26 million, he said.

Bayer and Fulcher said they have more than two dozen co-sponsors from both parties and hope to get the bill introduced this week.

But the absence of House Revenue & Taxation Committee Chairman Gary Collins — he was to have his spleen removed Monday and miss the entire week — means that’s unlikely.

A further complication: Fulcher’s challenge to Gov. Butch Otter makes supporters of the governor resistant to hand the upstart an arrow for his campaign quiver.

“I am not supportive of Senator Fulcher’s and Senator Bayer’s idea,” House Speaker Scott Bedke said Monday. “I’m not a fan.”

The idea also met with skepticism from Senate Local Government & Taxation Committee Chairman Jeff Siddoway, who said he learned of the measure Monday when asked about it by a Statesman reporter. Siddoway said he would oppose the change and favors directing $90 in tax relief to full repeal of the tax on personal property, excepting utilities.

Fulcher acknowledged his bill will be seen through a campaign lens, but said it is not motivated by his bid to unseat Otter.

For more on story, including details on sales tax policy around the country and more from skeptics of the bill, read tomorrow’s Idaho Statesman in print, or online.

Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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Posted in Election Central, Idaho Politics