August 29, 2006

Idaho: A Touching Display of Advisory Democracy

Since Idaho's temporary governor used a legislative super-super-majority to push through a property-for-sales-tax swap in a one-day special session last week, there have been (justified) howls of outrage from the blogosphere.

The session is widely being described as anti-democratic for the vigor with which Republican leaders prevented alternative approaches to property tax reform from being discussed. But interestingly, even though the Dem leadership's alternative plan-- which would have restricted property tax cuts to just Idaho homeowners, rather than providing breaks to businesses and second-home-owners--didn't get a hearing during the Friday special session, the legislature now professes to be very interested in knowing whether the public thinks they did the right thing. Here's a section from the newly passed property tax swap legislation that creates an "advisory" question on this November's ballot:
SECTION 25. The Legislature finds and declares that the issue of the property tax funding maintenance and
operations of public schools is of importance to the citizens of the state of Idaho. As a representative body, members of the Legislature desire to be responsive and responsible to these citizens. For this reason, the Legislature herewith submits an advisory ballot to the electors of the state of Idaho, and the results will guide the Legislature as to whether the [just-repealed M&O property tax] should continue to be removed and the funds be replaced by a sufficient increase in the state sales tax. The Secretary of State shall have the question below placed on the 2006 general election ballot ... The question shall be as follows: "Should the State of Idaho keep the property tax relief adopted in August 2006, reducing property taxes by approximately $260 million and protecting funding for public schools by keeping the sales tax at 6%?".
It's cute that they're interested in knowing what people think about the legislative steamroller GOP leaders just pulled. But what happens if voters say they don't like it? The language of the bill says the legislature "will be guided" by the results. Does this mean the Democratic alternative will get a hearing when the legislature comes back in January?


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