BOISE, Idaho — There is growing frustration at the statehouse over a piece of legislation, nothing new on that front. But this time the legislation isn’t from Idaho, it’s from the state legislature in Washington. A transportation and infrastructure package in the Washington Legislature includes a new 6-cent tax on fuel sent outside of Washington to places like Idaho, Oregon, and Alaska.
As of Tuesday, Feb. 22, the bill had passed the Washington Senate and had been introduced in the House's transportation committee.
Idaho Governor Brad Little and other state leaders say the exported fuels tax proposed in the Washington Legislature would essentially mean states like Idaho would be paying the bill for Washington’s infrastructure package. Little and the Idaho AG say they have legal concerns.
“I don't think it's constitutional, I don't think. I mean, the whole concept of our system is that you can't tax some other state. It violates Commerce Clause. There's all kinds of things. The easiest thing is they just not do it,” Little said.
Governor Little and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden sent a letter to Washington Governor Jay Inslee asking him to stop the added fuel tax on Idahoans. The letter asks Inslee to consider how the 6% tax would impact Idahoans already struggling with inflation and rising fuel costs. They write, “If these proposals reach your desk, we ask you to veto them. Now is not the time for our states to turn on each other with excise tax proposals that dampen our economy and increase costs for everyone.”
House Speaker Scott Bedke (R-Oakley) and members of the Idaho House are also pushing back on the legislation.
“States can't treat states this way, and for good reason, we have the commerce clause in our constitution,” Bedke said, referring to the clause in Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution that states Congress shall have the power to regulate commerce between the states as well as with foreign countries and indigenous tribes.
The Idaho House on Tuesday unanimously approved House Joint Memorial 5, which is essentially a message to Washington lawmakers, asking them to consider the great relationships in business and commerce between Idaho and Washington as they consider a fuel tax on Idahoans. It also calls on Washington Gov. Jay Inslee to speak out against the proposed exported fuels tax and, if the measure reaches his desk, veto it.
“I understand the principle, you know, if you have a neighbor in a position where you can extort money, maybe, but neighbors don't do neighbors that way,” Bedke said. “We're alarmed, we don't think that friends and neighboring states should do each other this way, and we will, and we're looking at all of our options.”
One of those options is to take the issue to a court of law. That can only happen if the legislation passes in Washington and Inslee signs it. Governor Little is confident a court would side with Idaho if that happens.
“I think they've got bad legal advice. I think that's part of it, I think somebody told them they could do this and you know, it's early and we don't have any damages because they haven't implemented it yet. But as soon as they do, we will file suit. But will, if I need to, I'll call Governor Inslee,” Little said.
Little adds that the commerce clause in the United States Constitution was specifically written for moments like these.
“The reason the Articles of Confederation failed and we wrote the Constitution was because the 13 states were all acting totally independently and in issues of commerce, and that's the foundation of our country, is that the United States of America, that you have to the states only have jurisdiction in their states and not outside of their states," Little said.
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