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Otter vetoes bill to repeal grocery sales tax

BOISE - Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch Otter vetoed the bill to eliminate the sales tax on groceries Tuesday evening.

BOISE - Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch Otter vetoed the bill to eliminate the sales tax on groceries Tuesday evening.

Otter had until noon Wednesday to either veto House Bill 67, sign it or let it pass into law without his signature.

"Every Idaho citizen should know by now that I support tax relief," Otter wrote in the letter accompanying the veto to Secretary of State Lawerence Denney. "In fact, I have approved about $1 billion in tax relief since I took office in 2007. However, the costs of this particular proposal are too high and the potential for imminent financial need too great for the small amount of tax relief it would provide."

The Legislature sent the bill to Otter's desk on March 27, but he had remained tight-lipped about his plans until finally filing the paperwork Tuesday evening.

Otter has previously stated that he opposed the bill. When KTVB asked Otter about the bill last week, he also was noncommittal.

"There's several stacks of bills in there yet to be treated, and if you're going to ask questions about how I'm going to sign certain bills I'm going to tell you you'll find out when I sign them, or when I don't sign them,” Otter said last week. “But I just need you to know that to have in mind there are a lot of other things I have to consider that are relative to the general fund budget."

One of those considerations was another major issue tackled by the Legislature this session: Funding for roads, which sustained extensive damage from the extreme winter - and continue to sustain blows from spring floods.

Earlier Tuesday, Otter allowed a nearly $320 million transportation funding plan to become law despite lodging multiple criticisms against key aspects of the measure, including the fact that the bill dips into the general fund.

"I didn't want them putting the other proper role and functions of government, like education, at risk," Otter said. "I let it be known that I didn't like them taking highway money out of the general fund to build highways." 

The governor said he allowed the bill to become law because the risk of continuing to ignore the state's crumbling roads and bridges is too great.

RELATED: Gov. Otter allows $320M road plan to become law

The new transportation plan primarily uses bonds to pay for new road projects and repay it with future federal highway payments. The plan also includes funneling 1 percent of the state's sales tax revenue to fund other road projects.

"Of more immediate concern is the hole that House Bill 67 would leave in our State budget just as we are facing the prospect of enormous flood damage this spring, above and beyond the winter-weather damage we already have experienced and budgeted $52 million to address," otter wrote in the letter to Secretary Of State Denney.

The bill would have eliminated that 6 percent sales tax on groceries and eliminate the grocery tax credit.

Opponents said the bill would create a $48 million hole in the general fund.

Supporters said it would help Idahoans and we shouldn't tax a necessity like food.

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