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Cigarette Tax Extension Benefits Water Deal

by Gregory Hahn
Idaho Statesman - March 24, 2005

Idaho lawmakers finally introduced a bill to extend the cigarette tax hike passed two years ago, and the more than $20 million it raises could become another piece of the water puzzle being constructed around the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer battles.

The bill was introduced in the House Ways and Means Committee, used to speed up legislation at the end of the session and to print bills that can't get through the regular committee process.

House Speaker Bruce Newcomb wants the 29-cent increase to continue this year to help fund the water solution. The money would pay for water rights around Bell Rapids near Hagerman and elsewhere around the state, and then be paid back by water users who will benefit from the state's actions.

House Revenue and Taxation Committee Chairwoman Dolores Crow refused to hold an introductory hearing in her committee, which is generally the clearinghouse for all tax bills.

Crow maintains that the Legislature made the same promise to end the cigarette tax increase as it did to end the sales tax hike, and she opposes any attempt to extend it.

Newcomb said Wednesday he didn't know whether that panel would get a chance to hold a hearing on the bill, or if he'd either hold a hearing elsewhere or simply send the bill to the floor for a vote.

"I haven't decided yet," he said.

Sometimes, at the end of legislative sessions, he said, you have to "take the path of least resistance."

But even this path wasn't entirely free of conflict.

The Ways and Means hearing was delayed several hours and then a new bill was drafted before it was introduced, because Idaho's American Indian tribes thought an earlier version was aimed at taxing cigarette sales on reservations.

That wasn't the intention, Newcomb said, and the bill was changed.

At the start of the session, Gov. Dirk Kempthorne had called on the Legislature to make the tax permanent and use the money to help pay for the renovation of the Statehouse and the old Ada County Courthouse and other building projects.

On Wednesday, Kempthorne said he could accept the tax going to the water loans this next year, but he wants the second year of the tax to pay for the repairs and renovation of the Statehouse.

"This building needs to have attention," he said.

Gregory Hahn
Statesman writer Wayne Hoffman contributed to this report.
Cigarette Tax Extension Benefits Water Deal
Idaho Statesman, March 24, 2005

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