By Liz Roberts
Oil and gas has been a concern ever since I learned that state-owned minerals located in the city of Eagle (where I live) had been leased to an oil and gas company. I was, and still am, concerned that Eagle could be transformed from a rural community to an industrial area with drill rigs and truck traffic.
For the past two years I’ve participated in IORC’s Grassroots Lobby Day at the Idaho State Legislature to help enact laws to protect us. In 2017, the legislature considered a bill that affected the oil and gas industry. A small group of about four of us met with Rep. Marc Gibbs and Sen. Steve Bair to let them know we would like the legislature to pass a bill that protects the health and property of people living near oil and gas operations. The Idaho State Legislature usually sides with business owners and employers over average citizens, but in 2017 it passed a bill that required more transparency and other restrictions on the oil and gas industry. Perhaps our lobby meetings and testimony at hearings had a positive impact on the outcome that year.
The grocery tax was also a big issue in 2017, and I participated in one lobby meeting with Sen. Maryanne Jordan, who was reluctant at first to support elimination of the grocery tax because of concerns about lost revenue to the state. She eventually came around, realizing the benefits to all Idahoans, and supported the final bill. In the end, a bill that eliminated the grocery tax passed both chambers but was ultimately vetoed by the governor. Having already adjourned for the year, the Legislature was unable to override the veto. Clearly, IORC’s efforts to lobby the legislature on the grocery tax were successful that year. Unfortunately, we didn’t convince the governor to sign the bill.
We met again for IORC’s Lobby Day in 2018 we focused on elimination of the grocery tax which hadn’t been included in any bills being considered at that time. We had a tutorial prior to the lobby meetings from Darcy James with the Interfaith Roundtable Against Hunger and Annie Ford with IORC about why the grocery tax is inequitable to so many Idahoans. I joined a group of five who met with Sen. Dan Johnson, who let us know that a large tax cut was likely to pass in the Senate. With a large tax cut already taking a considerable chunk out of state revenues, it wasn’t possible for the legislature to consider eliminating the sales tax on groceries in 2018.
As a member of IORC, my voice may not be as loud as one representing business interests, but it’s important that I participate in lobbying, just in case a legislator can be persuaded. It may be that there are other voices out there like ours at IORC and if enough of us speak up we can change minds.