Steve Antone, a plain-spoken farmer who spent a dozen years as the gatekeeper of Idaho tax policy, died Saturday.
The Rupert Republican served 28 years in the Idaho House, the last dozen as chairman of the House Revenue & Taxation Committee before his retirement in 1996.
A full story from the Twin Falls Times-News will run in tomorrow print and online. Antone’s funeral will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at the United Methodist Church in Rupert.
A veteran of 25 B-17 bombing missions in World War II, Antone was ahead of his time on tax policy. In 1993, he proposed cutting the sales tax rate by expanding the tax to services — an idea reflecting the realities of an economy growing more dependent on services.
Antone said broadening the tax base couldn’t pass the Legislature unless the changes were revenue neutral. While the idea has been kicked around since, the economy has continued to shift to where services comprise about three-fifths of sales. Still, there is no consensus in the Legislature.
I met Antone in 1987 during my first session covering the Legislature. His gravelly voice was intimidating, but his good humor and warm manner made him an avuncular figure.
Antone often delegated tax committee duties to expert allies including the late Rep. Don Loveland, R-Boise. Antone didn’t talk a lot in debate, but when he spoke, his clear thinking and bluntness turned heads.
Also in 1993, Antone damned with faint praise a bill by Democratic Rep. Wally Wright to raise sales taxes in exchange for property tax cuts. Gov. Cecil Andrus had a similar measure.
“It’s not near as bad as the governor’s,” Antone said, adding that Wright’s bill would help urban taxpayers at the expense of agriculture. The bill failed.
Antone wasn’t afraid to counter election-year GOP wisdom. In 1992, he raised doubts about a constitutional amendment proposed by then-Rep. Mike Simpson of Blackfoot who was positioning to run for speaker of the House.
Simpson’s resolution would have required a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate to raise sales and income taxes. The measure failed. Simpson was elected speaker later that year.
Similar super-majority provisions in other states, including California, have prompted fiscal crises and given a minority of lawmakers outsized influence.
Antone taught me a lot about what it is to be a good lawmaker. Know your stuff. Treat people with kindness. Show the courage of your convictions. My condolences to his wife, Diane, and the rest of his family.