Wednesday, January 07, 2009

A great idea, dead in the water

Jon Marvel has a Reader's View in today's Statesman, in which he suggests that water users in Idaho should pay for the water they use.

Marvel notes the expense of administering water issues and describes how the cost can be borne by all water users, including homeowners and farmers. He notes advantages of the plan, such as raising revenue in tight budgetary times and encouraging conservation.

As a water user, I'm not so partial to paying more for water, but as a taxpayer I like the idea that folks who use a State resource ought to pay for that use. In fact, failure to charge the big users while simultaneously funding a state agency to sort out issues related to the big users is, plain and simple, a subsidy.

This is "marvel"ous idea. Unfortunately, it's likely to go nowhere. Our R friends in the legislature are deeply beholden to farmers and ranchers (in fact, in many cases are one and the same) and won't be keen to impose new fees. Farmers and ranchers are exempt from the sales tax. I believe they can buy untaxed farm fuel They get advantageous tax rates on farm ground. And on and on. The legislature takes care of Idaho's farmers and ranchers.

So, I don't expect this to go anywhere, but I'd like someone to raise it for discussion. Perhaps one of our safe Boise legislators, or even Clint Stennent. It won't pass, but talking about it could expose political fault lines and perhaps some hypocrisy. If we're going to raise fuel taxes to raise money from people who drive, then why not raise some water tax from people who use water, especially people who use water to make money.

Marvel says
One consequence of this free water policy is that the majority of the Idaho Department of Water Resources annual budget of $26 million comes from the Idaho's general fund, even though most of the work of the agency has to do with administering water rights and studying the relationship of groundwater and surface water.
$26 mil shifted off the general fund would go a long way to easing our budget issues or toward helping rebuild our transportation infrastructure.

1 comment:

Sisyphus said...

I dunno, but for the messenger, they could slap an ag exemption on it, plus one for Idaho Power and other industrial use, get Republicans to sell it and it might have a chance. Naaaawwwwww.

The whole idea behind the prior appropriation doctrine was to get people to do the work necessary to use as much water as possible in order that they may thereafter freely enjoy the benefits. You'd pretty much have to change the constitution to get this.