Court hears argument on tax repeal veto

By Cameron Rasmusson
Reader Staff

Idaho lawmakers took aim at a nearly-40-year-old Idaho Supreme Court precedent last week in their bid to overturn a governor veto of the grocery tax repeal.

The Idaho Supreme Court heard opening arguments last Thursday for and against the lawsuit, which alleges that Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter violated the Idaho State Constitution by vetoing a repeal of the state’s 6-percent grocery tax. The lawsuit, filed by 30 Idaho legislators, claims that Otter didn’t abide by a 10-day deadline to veto the legislation from the time the Legislature adjourns. Lawyers for the governor and secretary of state, meanwhile, are relying on the 1978 Idaho Supreme Court precedent established in Cenarusa v. Andrus, which ruled that the deadline countdown starts from the time a bill is delivered to the governor’s office.

Attorney Bryan Smith, representing the lawmakers, claimed that the state benefits from a plain reading of the state constitution. He also argued that a loss in court could discourage future lawmakers from challenging the governor in court over harmful or unclear applications of law.

The governor’s legal team, meanwhile, argued that retroactively invalidating the precedent Otter relied upon for his veto would be bad public policy.

Otter justified the grocery tax repeal veto by citing its impact to state revenue, which he figured to be around an $80 million shortfall. He said the grocery tax resulted in a notably stable source of revenue, and that experiments in other states to remove a grocery tax have resulted in unexpected budgetary trouble.

Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, has argued since the veto that the recent higher-than-expected state revenue is evidence that Otter’s budget concerns are unfounded.

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