As the Legislature shifts gears from introducing new laws and surveying the finances of state agencies to passing new laws and setting budgets, Boise Sen. Nicole LeFavour has released a survey of nearly 800 people from across the state showing some appetite for raising taxes.
LeFavour, a Democrat from Boise's North End, hosted the poll on her Web site, but got responses from all over Idaho. It is not a scientific poll. But 60 percent of respondents would accept a one-time income tax surcharge on people making more than $70,000 a year. And 52 percent of respondents supported raising income tax on individuals making more than $50,000.
These numbers may not reflect the general feeling of Idahoans, but they are significant for another reason: These are the first concrete suggestions for raising new revenue since the session began.
Rep. Shirley Ringo, a Moscow Democrat and Judy Brown, an economist with the liberal Idaho Center on Budget and Tax Policy, suggested an income tax surcharge in December 2009 but have not floated the idea unda' the rotunda, so to speak.
Budget setting begins on Monday, Feb. 22, and the budget committee has a very low target with which to set budgets. The tax committee and the governor have drawn their usual line in the sand against raising taxes, so it's not clear how any taxation ideas will see the light of day.
We're not sure what the corollary to the old Boston Tea Party jingle would be, but at some point, is there a lack of representation through inadequate taxation?
As LeFavour put it in her e-mail: "If taxes are not increased in any way, the only alternative we have will be cutting public school funding and all budgets by more than half billion or 20 percent less funding than we had in 2008 ... If you do not want to see cuts on this scale and especially if you do not want school class sizes to increase and education budgets cut dramatically, PLEASE let your lawmakers know."
While it's another long shot at the statehouse, a bipartisan effort to pick up the Ron Paul/Hanes Her Way torch and urge the feds to decriminalize industrial hemp (Hanes has been experimenting with hemp fabrics, people) is still alive.
While Moscow Republican Tom Trail is the face behind hemp in the Idaho House, Sandpoint Republican Eric Anderson and Boise Democrat Brian Cronin have joined the fight.
But their nascent effort is currently undergoing cardiopulmonary resuscitation as the three seek a motion to reconsider in the House Ag Affairs Committee.
The committee recently failed to print the bill, a memorial to Congress to legalize hemp so that Idaho farmers could grow it to make underwear and ice cream (frozen dessert) and, well, rope.
Five Republicans on the committee, sitting all in a row, voted the measure down. The Hemp Caucus of Three is working on one of the Republicans to change his mind and at least allow the bill to be heard.
At the print hearing, before the bill went down, the three presented the ban on hemp as an economic issue. Trail said Canadian farmers get $200,000 an acre for the seeds. Anderson said that even car fabrics now use the stuff.
"Probably not a day goes by when we are not around a hemp product," he said.
And Cronin brought a box of hemp milk (an Idaho dairy lobbyist countered in the hallway afterward that it's not in fact milk since it did not come from a mammary gland), which is available up the street at Boise Co-op, to demonstrate the hypocrisy that you can buy the by-products but you can't grow the raw materials.
But Rep. Dennis Lake, a Blackfoot Republican and powerful committee chair, questioned the sponsors on why hemp was banned in the first place, raising concerns that hemp and marijuana plants appear very similar and may present problems for law enforcement.
While they do appear similar, Trail asserted that they are grown in different fashions--hemp is a row crop-- and that marijuana growers would be making a big mistake hiding their plants in fields of hemp because they would cross pollinate and dilute the effects of the marijuana.
Trail also assured the committee that industrial hemp contains very little to no THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.
"To get a high, you'd have to build a cigar the size of a telephone pole," he said, quoting a Canadian expert.
Cronin pointed out that the Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper and that the wagon trains out West were covered in hempen cloth. But that was not enough to convince the committee, which voted 5-5 to reject the resolution.
Anderson and Cronin said after the hearing that they would continue to work with law enforcement and other interests to push a full discussion on the merits of hemp farming to Idaho.
Last week the Legislature also failed to entertain a suggestion to open up Idaho distilleries for tastings, which was presented by North Idaho Republican Rep. Jim Clark as an economic issue as well. But one member of the committee was concerned that people would swallow.
"How are you going to stop 'em from swallowing it if it's in their mouth?" asked Rep. Ken Andrus, a Republican from East Idaho, according to the Eye on Boise blog.
"I'm not trying to stop anybody from doing anything," an ornery and soon-to-retire Clark retorted. If swallowing means passing the bill and spitting means rejection, the committee did not swallow.