The Legislature's new gatekeeper on taxes says he had no warning when Gov. Butch Otter proposed authorizing local-option taxes in his State of the State speech Monday.
"There was kind of a big pause when the governor mentioned that in his talk," said House Revenue & Taxation Committee Chairman Gary Collins, R-Nampa. "At least my breath -- my breathing -- changed a little bit. That was a big surprise to me. I think it was to a lot of different people. I guess that will just be part of the conversation."
Collins spoke Wednesday morning shortly before his vastly reconfigured committee began its first full business meeting with a review of rules proposed by the Tax Commission. The committee held an organization session Tuesday. Revenue raising measures must start in House Rev & Tax, which has traditionally been more conservative than its Senate counterpart, the Local Government and Taxation Committee.
Collins said his position on local-option hasn't changed since 2008, when he supported a House-passed constitutional amendment to allow voters to approve local taxes, but only with a two-thirds supermajority. The Senate rejected that proposal, in part because local governments opposed the change as too restrictive.
Collins said he agrees with Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, one of just seven holdovers on the 16-member committee, who said the two-thirds vote and constitutional status is necessary to protect taxpayers. "That's what he's expressed to me and I haven't changed my mind either," Collins said.
Otter said Monday that he doesn't require those two hurdles as part of his plan to help offset repeal of the personal property tax on business equipment. But he conceded the Legislature may be unwilling to enact local-option without the restrictions.
Otter's office has yet to supply Collins with a draft bill or any details. In his post-speech news conference Monday, Otter steadfastly refused to specify whether he was talking about sales taxes or income taxes or other local-option levies. He simply said the matter should be left to local officials and voters.
"I really haven't seen any (draft bills) or anything," Collins said.
But Collins said he plans to move ahead soon with hearings on repeal of the $141 million personal property tax. "I'm sure we'll have something going on here within the next 10 days or two weeks. It's something that we've got to get printed and get out there so we can get serious."
Moyle, who has long gotten most of what he wants in the committee, said he doesn't have a clear read on how the philosophical complexion of the new committee might influence Otter's proposals.
"I don't think any them know," Moyle said. "It's a learning curve for these new guys."
Moyle said some of the newbies have expressed surprise that local-option tax is typically a sales tax, saying, "What's that? Sales tax? People don't like sales tax."