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What's the Idaho Legislature up to? No good, as usual. But District 5 Representatives Tom Trail and Shirley Ringo are demonstrating their usual sound good sense. Too bad we can't have them cloned.

Tom Trail’s Legislative Update

I turned 18 at the end of November 1984, three weeks too late to vote for Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro in their quixotic run against Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. I’ve voted in every election since then, federal, state, and local, and I have always voted Democratic with one exception: when I can, when there is no viable Democratic opposition, I vote for District 5 State Representative Tom Trail and Senator Gary Schroeder. Why? Because they’re Rockefeller Republicans. Trail and Schroeder are Teddy Roosevelt types who care about the poor, about education, and about equality and fairness. Sure, I wish they were Democrats, and it pains me to push out a chad for a Republican. We need Democrats in the Idaho State Legislature. The Republicans here operate like the old Supreme Soviet, unilaterally and often behind closed doors. This is supposed to be a “sunshine state,” but open meeting laws are only observed in the abstract. Legislation in Idaho is manufactured like sausage — away from the prying eyes of the consumer, so we won’t know how many pigs’ lips and sows’ ears we’re going to be fed.

Trail and Schroeder are good, decent men, and I can and do support them with a clear conscience. God knows, in a state legislature that has featured the likes of Twila “I like the word squaw” Hornbeck and Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee Chair Delores “screw the budget” Crow, we’re damned lucky up here in District 5 to have the consistently sensible Trail and Schroeder representing our interests.

We’re equally fortunate to have Democrat Shirley Ringo, but hers is a lonely voice down in Red Boise. I support and admire Ringo not for pragmatic reasons — Democrats don’t have a hope in hell of pushing through legislation in this one-party state — but for her willingness to stand up and fight, even when she’s sure to lose. Someday, I hope, the pendulum will swing, and the state that once proudly sported Governor Cecil Andrus and Senator Frank Church will come to its senses and recognize that Republican-only government has landed us in a pathetic race to the bottom, striving against the likes of Alabama and Mississippi to see who can place at the very bottom in employment and earnings, reproductive rights, education, health care, and assistance for the poor.

On April 7th, Rep. Trail posted his latest legislative update. Here are some parts of that update:

“The Idaho Legislature in its wisdom adjourned today without acting on a single bill. The Legislature will resume legislative matters on Monday. We were told that we would be out of here three weeks ago. I am leaving on Saturday because I have a national meeting next week in Chicago. I have paired off my votes on the remaining bills and have signed some other pairing slips. I’ll be in phone contact so that if some new bill comes up, I’ll still be able to vote for it. Here are some of the week’s happenings.

1. HB876: The Home Owners’ Exemption was coupled with the $3 million M & O to be replaced by a 1.25% sales tax increase. This represented a total of about $250,000,000 in property tax relief. The bill passed the House on a 44-26 margin but was defeated 20-15 in the Senate. Economic studies indicated that if you had an income of $135,000 and above that you would get some property tax relief, and that those with an income of $195,000 or above would get the most property tax relief. Those with an income of $20,000 took the biggest hit. I voted against the bill.

2. HB421: The Home Owners’ Exemption, which increases the exemption from $50,000 to $75,000 and is indexed, has already passed the House and Senate. All we have to do on the House side is simply agree with the Senate amendments. I support this bill, which will provide some estimated $45 million in property tax relief for home owners.

3. Other tax possibilities: there are rumors that a bill might still be brought up to place a freeze on property taxes, a bad idea. Another proposal to ask citizens to indicate their preferences on property tax relief is on the November ballot.”

I’m noticing a trend here. Item one is the same old, same old. The rich get birthday cake; the poor get shit cake. Light a candle and make a wish, but remember, wish in one hand, crap in the other, and see which fills up first.

Item two is not so bad. Increasing the home owners’ exemption by $25,000 and indexing it is a good idea. With home prices rising dramatically in Northern Idaho, long-time residents are being priced out of their houses in places like Coeur d’Alene and Sandpoint. Local municipalities need some means of raising local revenues apart from raising property taxes. A local sales tax might well be an option, but I worry that it would necessarily be regressive. I’d prefer to see a local income tax levied. (Fat chance in this currently anti-progressive state, I know, but I paid a local income tax when I lived in Columbus, Ohio, and it didn’t kill me. Far from it. The tax was fair, and the revenues it generated gave the city a relatively steady stream of income with which to budget.)

Item three I find very frightening. It suggests that the Idaho Legislature might be toying with something akin to California’s infamous Proposition 13, which has hamstrung California budget makers since 1978. Don’t get me wrong; as a new homeowner, I tend to favor property tax relief. I am all for sending smaller tax checks to Boise, especially as the State Legislature doesn’t use my dollars for education or health care but rather to push constitutional amendments that discriminate against (and insult and offend) me and my same-sex partner. But do we, as a state, want to operate on the kind of slap-dash collection of loans, bonds, and empty promises that props up California’s bloated budget?

I would hate to see Idaho jump on the national bandwagon of fiscal irresponsibility. Our federal budget is a house of cards with three aces missing and a deck full of jokers. Let’s not play Texas Hold’em with children’s and our grandchildren’s poker chips, not here in Idaho.

About Joan Opyr

Though born and raised in Raleigh, North Carolina, Joan Opyr has lived in Moscow, Idaho for the past twelve years. She recently came to the reluctant conclusion that, barring her writing an international bestseller or winning big on Powerball, she was here to stay. This revelation was something of a shock to her. Why would a die-hard Democrat want to live in what is perhaps the Reddest state in America? Because she's ornery, that's why. And that, Joan feels, is what makes her a true Idahoan, even if only by adoption.

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