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READER COMMENT
Reader comment: Otter: Repeal the grocery tax

Please encourage Gov. Otter to sign House Bill 67 to remove sales taxes on groceries, a system that hurts families. Taxing food, a basic human need, is unfair. Idaho is one of only 13 states that does so.

Let’s liberate Idahoans and the Tax Commission from the cumbersome sales tax on groceries with tax credits paid back months later, a system that no longer makes sense. That’s why H67 passed the House and Senate with strong bipartisan support.

For Idaho to tax groceries generating paperwork to return some of these dollars to citizens later doesn’t make sense. Data given to legislators revealed that a typical family of four is spending $7,600 annually for groceries, not the $6,600 estimated. Families with teenagers likely are spending even more. Most families don’t receive parity with a delayed annual tax credit. These credits, available only once a year, do not keep up with cash flow for stressed Idahoans with tight monthly budgets.

Steve Ackerman, a College of Western Idaho economics instructor independently testifying to the House, said, “The grocery sales tax repeal would benefit Idahoans more than an income tax cut.” H67 truly helps lower income earners the most – having 6 percent more in your pocket when you need it is what matters.

Many disadvantaged people cannot readily access the tax credits. Sen. Cliff Bayer (sponsor, R-Meridian) also confirmed that 50,000 tax returns are filed annually solely to receive grocery credits. Let’s rid Idaho of this convoluted system and save the significant expense of processing 50,000 unnecessary returns.

Two economists recently stated concerns about supposed burdens on merchants who will stop taxing groceries but still impose tax on sundries. Today’s food stores use database systems that accommodate more complicated pricing options than a simple tax/do not tax “flag.” There’s ample time to get ready for system changeovers in FY2019.

Another unfortunate side effect of 6 percent sales tax: Idaho’s border town grocers suffer because folks drive out of state to avoid paying sales tax. H67 helps small business, especially in Weiser, Parma, Moscow and Coeur d’Alene. The Idaho Farmers Market Association reports that the Moscow Farmers Market alone has fostered 67 start-up businesses with an economic impact of $3.45 to $4.56 million. Ending grocery taxes will stabilize prices at local markets and decrease sellers’ remittance burdens.

Sen. Bayer worked diligently to craft this sales tax-credit removal, including a mechanism equalizing sales tax revenue to local governments, and he delayed implementation for one year. There is zero fiscal impact in FY2018. We urge this period be used to finally enact overdue tax loophole solutions. We also question why legislators allowed S1206, the roads bill, to siphon off one percent of all sales taxes for highway fixes, an unprecedented transfer of sales revenue largely intended to fund education.

Idahoans want this inequitable tax on groceries to vanish, along with the outdated credits, an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy. H67 is a timely move, especially with substantial new Amazon sales taxes entering the Idaho revenue stream this month. Folks everywhere are clear that our tax system needs change. Enacting H67 is a great step for more fairness and sensible government.


Columns
OTHER VIEW
Other View: Syrian opposition leader: Trump has a chance to save Syria

President Donald Trump’s decision to take limited military strikes against a Syrian military base Thursday is a potential game-changer for Syria, but only if the Trump administration follows through with a strategy to increase the pressure on Bashar Assad’s regime and its partners, according to the lead negotiator for the Syrian opposition.

Trump said Thursday that he is calling on the international community “to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria,” but the administration has not specified whether the strikes will be followed by a significant change in the United States’ Syria policy. If the Trump team treats its reaction to Assad’s use of chemical weapons as a one-off event, Assad, Russia and Iran will claim they stood up to Trump’s aggression and then take retribution on the Syrian opposition and the Syrian people, said Riyad Hijab, a former Syrian prime minister.

“President Trump was able to do in two days what President [Barack] Obama could not do in six years,” Hijab told me Friday morning. “We call on President Trump to go even further and ground the entire Syrian Air Force, which has ruthlessly bombarded civilians with chemical weapons and explosive barrels for years with impunity.”

Short of that, the Syrian opposition is asking the Trump administration to use any new leverage it has to demand a nationwide ceasefire, to stop the killing of civilians by the Assad regime and press for international access to all besieged areas and the jails where Assad is holding thousands of civilians in custody. They also believe now is the time to push for a new political process to move Assad out of power.

Assad saw statements from senior Trump administration officials last week referring to his remaining in power as a “green light” for him to escalate his attacks on civilians, according to Hijab. Now, Trump has backed up his strong words of condemnation of Assad’s April 4 chemical weapons attack with actions, but it’s only the first step.

“If this strike is not followed up by political, military and diplomatic pressure, it will give a chance to Assad to boast they have contained the strike and they have made an achievement,” Hijab said at a pre-scheduled Friday morning event at the Atlantic Council.

The Syrian military command issued a statement Friday pledging to double down on its effort to crush what it calls terrorists, which for Assad includes the Syrian opposition and even civilians.

“That’s why we expect an escalation against the Syrian people,” Hijab said.

The most important determining factor going forward is what the U.S. strategy will be. Hijab, who has been meeting with administration officials, Pentagon officials and lawmakers this week, revealed that the Syrian opposition has submitted two plans to the Trump administration for consideration. One would seek to take advantage of gains in northern Syria, won with the help of the Turkish military, to establish the safe zones that Trump has repeatedly promised.

A separate plan put forth by the Syrian opposition asks for U.S. support to train and equip moderate Sunni Arab fighters in the eastern Syrian provinces of Deir al-Zour and Raqqa, to fight the Islamic State. If the U.S.-led coalition relies on the heavily Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces to take Raqqa, it will likely defeat the Islamic State but then cause a new war that will result in the rise of a new terrorist group to oppose the Kurds, the opposition contends.

“The good alternative is, use the people from the provinces themselves. The same applies to al-Qaida in Idlib,” a province in northern Syria, Hijab said.

Even after six years of war, the Syrian opposition and Syrian civilians are still crying out for the United States to lead the international charge to defend their dignity and basic rights, he said. Trump now has a new opportunity to answer their calls.

“The United States is leader of the free, democratic world,” said Hijab, “whether it wants it or not.”


Columns
KRAUTHAMMER
Krauthammer: Karma, precedent and the nuclear option

WASHINGTON — For euphemism, dissimulation and outright hypocrisy, there is nothing quite as entertaining as the periodic Senate dust-ups over Supreme Court appointments and the filibuster. The arguments for and against the filibuster are so well-known to both parties as to be practically memorized. Both nonetheless argue their case with great shows of passion and conviction. Then shamelessly switch sides — and scripts — depending on the ideology of the nominee.

Everyone appeals to high principle, when everyone knows these fights are about raw power. When Democrat Harry Reid had the majority in the Senate and Barack Obama in the White House, he abolished the filibuster in 2013 for sub-Supreme Court judicial appointments in order to pack three liberal judges onto the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Bad karma, bad precedent, he was warned. Republicans would one day be in charge. That day is here and Republicans have just stopped a Democratic filibuster of Neil Gorsuch by extending the Reid Rule to the Supreme Court.

To be sure, there are reasoned arguments to be offered on both sides of the filibuster question. It is true that the need for a supermajority does encourage compromise and coalition building. But given the contemporary state of hyperpolarization — the liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats of 40 years ago are long gone — the supermajority requirement today merely guarantees inaction, which, in turn, amplifies the current popular disgust with politics in general and Congress in particular. In my view, that makes paring back the vastly overused filibuster, on balance, a good thing.

Moreover, killing the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations (the so-called nuclear option) yields two gratifications: It allows a superb young conservative jurist to ascend to the seat once held by Antonin Scalia. And it constitutes condign punishment for the reckless arrogance of Reid and his erstwhile Democratic majority.

A major reason these fights over Supreme Court nominations have become so bitter and unseemly is the stakes — the political stakes. The Supreme Court has become more than ever a superlegislature. From abortion to gay marriage, it has appropriated to itself the final word. It rules — and the normal democratic impulses, expressed through the elected branches, are henceforth stifled.

Why have we had almost half a century of massive street demonstrations over abortion? Because the ballot box is not available. The court has spoken, and the question is supposedly settled for all time.

This transfer of legislative authority has suited American liberalism rather well. When you command the allegiance of 20 to 25 percent of the population (as measured by Gallup), you know that whatever control you will have of the elected branches will be fleeting (2009-2010, for example). So how do you turn the political order in your direction? Capture the courts.

They are what banks were to Willie Sutton. They are where you go for the right political outcomes. Note how practically every argument at the Gorsuch hearings was about political outcomes. Where would he come out on abortion? Gay marriage? The Democrats pretended this was about principle, e.g. the sanctity of precedent. But everyone knows which precedents they selectively cherish: Roe v. Wade and, more recently, Obergefell v. Hodges.

Liberalism does not want to admit that the court has become its last reliable instrument for achieving its political objectives. So liberals have created a great philosophical superstructure to justify their freewheeling, freestyle constitutional interpretation. They present themselves as defenders of a “living Constitution” under which the role of the court is to reflect the evolving norms of society. With its finger on the pulse of the people, the court turns contemporary culture into constitutional law.

But this is nonsense. In a democracy, what better embodiment of evolving norms can there be than elected representatives? By what logic are the norms of a vast and variegated people better reflected in nine appointed lawyers produced by exactly three law schools?

If anything, the purpose of a constitutional court such as ours is to enforce old norms that have preserved both our vitality and our liberty for 230 years. How? By providing a rugged reliable frame within which the political churnings of each generation take place.

The Gorsuch nomination is a bitter setback to the liberal project of using the courts to ratchet leftward the law and society. However, Gorsuch’s appointment simply preserves the court’s ideological balance of power. Wait for the next nomination. Having gratuitously forfeited the filibuster, Democrats will be facing the loss of the court for a generation.

Condign punishment indeed.