By Cameron Rasmusson
Idaho’s 6-percent grocery tax will remain in effect following an Idaho Supreme Court decision.
A battle between the Idaho legislative and executive branches ended in Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s favor this week, with state supreme court justices ruling 4-1 that Otter’s veto of a grocery tax repeal was legal. It also overturned a nearly 40-year-old court precedent governing veto procedure.
The dispute centered around the 10-day window in which the governor must veto a bill once the Idaho Legislature has adjourned. A coalition of 30 lawmakers argued that under a plain reading of the state constitution, that time limit started from the Legislature’s adjournment, making Otter’s veto of the grocery tax repeal illegal. Otter and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, meanwhile, maintained that the time limit started from the moment the bill reached the governor’s desk, a legal definition established in the 1978 Idaho Supreme Court case Cenarrusa v. Andrus.
The upshot of the new ruling is that the Idaho Legislature must submit all legislation to the governor before it adjourns. It also upholds Otter’s veto of the grocery tax repeal. However, as Betsy Russell of the Spokesman-Review observes, lawmakers could opt to pass another grocery tax repeal during the 2018 legislative session, this time overriding the veto with two-thirds support.
Either way, the decision buys time for Sandpoint city officials, who worried that a repeal of the grocery tax would deal a serious blow to local option tax revenue. According to City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton, the tax, which funds the construction of the new Memorial Field grandstands, is tied to the state sales tax and generates about a third of its revenue from grocery sales.
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