Almost unbelievably, Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and his staff may have botched yet another veto.
The governor struck down the Legislature’s repeal of the grocery tax on April 11. But now several lawmakers are challenging Otter in court, saying he didn’t issue his veto within the 10 days allowed by law.
What in the world was he thinking? He surely knew he would veto the bill (he said almost as much in a letter to lawmakers before it passed), so why even chance it by waiting until the very last minute? Has the governor already checked out? Can he not read a calendar? Is his staff really that incompetent? Is he?
As we’re left to ponder these questions, Idaho now must grapple with a problem of the governor’s making: The fate of the grocery tax is in the hands of the courts, and nobody knows what will happen next. Either the veto will be upheld and Idahoans will continue to pay taxes on groceries, or the courts will overturn the veto and lawmakers will have to reconcile a flawed bill — repealing the tax will leave the state with an $80 million shortfall — when they return next year.
Here’s a suggestion: Otter should call the Legislature back to Boise so lawmakers can override the governor’s veto and craft a better bill. It might seem counterintuitive for the governor to ask that lawmakers essentially cross him, but the alternative, at best, leaves the judiciary to set the state’s tax policy and, at worst, the possibility the bill stands and lawmakers are forced to cut back education spending or other important programs next year to make up the hole created by repealing the tax. Neither one is pretty.
We still believe repealing the grocery tax is a good idea. But in seeking to repeal the tax, lawmakers crafted a flawed bill. Fixing it now in a special session removes the uncertainty of a court decision and would reflect the will of Republicans and Democrats alike.
Make no mistake, the grocery tax is going away whether the governor likes it or not. The repeal bill had broad support from both parties in both chambers. It also has the support of Lt. Gov. Brad Little, a candidate to replace Otter, as well as Tommy Ahlquist and Russ Fulcher, the two other declared candidates. So even if Otter doesn’t do it now, the next governor probably will.
Yes, Otter made his own bed in this mess, but the Legislature shares some of the blame, too. Lawmakers worked all session on plans to cut taxes but didn’t find the legislative sweet spot until the session’s final days. In their rush to adjourn, the actual language solved one problem (repealing the tax) but created another (the budget shortfall).
We should expect more from our government, especially the governor. He can still fix the mess by calling a special session. The question now: Does he have the guts and political savvy to right his wrong?