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Idaho legislators push for talks on moving Oregon border

Two Idaho legislators are pushing a longshot proposal to have certain rural eastern Oregon counties secede from the state and join Idaho.

Reps. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, and Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, are sponsoring House Joint Memorial 1, a nonbinding petition that invites the Oregon Legislature to begin discussions with the Idaho Legislature about the potential to relocate the Idaho/Oregon border. A similar joint memorial was introduced in Oregon earlier this year, KOIN reported

The House State Affairs Committee voted to introduce the memorial with little discussion. The issue can be traced to the so-called Greater Idaho movement, which calls for relocating 11 or more Oregon counties in Idaho. Greater Idaho movement supporters say Idaho is more politically and economically aligned with eastern Oregon than Portland and western Oregon.

“For quite a few years now, eastern Oregon has been quite unhappy with their state — Portland seems to run everything there — and they have been asking for quite some time if they could move the border and become part of Idaho,” Boyle told the House State Affairs Committee. 

Rep. Judy Boyle (R, Midvale)
 Rep. Judy Boyle, R,-Midvale, calls a fellow legislator on the House floor at the Idaho Capitol in Boise on April 6, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

Boyle said there would be benefits for Idaho, too. Adding Oregon residents could increase Idaho’s population enough to receive a third seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, she said. Boyle also claimed moving the state’s border could help alleviate Idaho’s traffic problems because fewer rural Oregon residents would need to move here if they seceded from Oregon and were annexed into Idaho. 

In order for the border to change, the Idaho Legislature and Oregon Legislature would have to sign off, and it would require an act of Congress. There are all sorts of potential stumbling blocks to such a move, including major policy differences on minimum wage, marijuana, sales tax and income tax rates between Idaho and Oregon. 

Although small adjustments to state borders have been made, large, widespread secessions and state border changes like the one proposed have not occurred since the Civil War. 

Several Oregon counties have voted on proposals related to the Greater Idaho movement. Voters in 11 Oregon counties — Baker, Grant, Harney, Jefferson, Klamath, Lake, Malheur, Morrow, Sherman, Union and Wheeler counties — have either voted to have their county commissioners discuss moving the border or request state legislators use taxpayer money to explore the issue, the Idaho Capital Sun and Oregon Public Broadcasting have previously reported. 

On the other hand, voters in Douglas and Josephine counties in Oregon voted against proposals designed to promote or explore moving the states’ border in May 2022. Voters in Oregon’s Wallowa County rejected a similar proposal in 2020, but Greater Idaho supporters say Wallow County residents will vote on a proposal again in May. 

The proposal doesn’t seem to be identified by Idahoans as a major concern thus far.

A recent public policy survey from Boise State University found that 56% of Idahoans say their property taxes are too high and they support reducing property taxes and repealing the sales tax on food, which is sometimes called the grocery tax. According to the survey results, Idahoans are worried about economic conditions worsening in the state and their top legislative priorities are for education, jobs, the economy and housing. The Idaho Legislature hasn’t produced major property tax legislation yet this session or legislation addressing several of those issues Idahoans identified as priorities, but a secession movement that supporters say is designed to help residents of eastern Oregon now has a toehold in the Idaho Legislature with the introduction of House Joint Memorial 1.

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