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House Highlights – Pre-session

December 18th, 2006 by Halli

By Tom Loertscher

With the first session of the Fifty Ninth Legislature a couple of weeks away, I am frequently asked what I think will be on the agenda. If this next session is like others recently you can bet that the issues that do come to the House will be more complex than ever. Some things are quite predictable and I wouldn’t be normal if I didn’t make some predictions, so here goes.

Budget: I have been told that Governor Risch has proposed a very austere budget to the tune of a twelve percent increase over last year. Austere? Details are not abundant at this point but I have a long memory of the last time an increase of that magnitude was passed and it was not pretty. Going to town with a $200 Million surplus developing, will make for extended wish lists from agencies and other pet project seekers. A more significant number to watch is what the increase in revenue is projected to be. A more prudent approach will be not to exceed revenues with our spending habits.

Water: With the Supreme Court now holding a pivotal case in its hands there will undoubtedly be reaction. The water issues will more than likely be centered around recharge and the mess generated by conjunctive management of surface and ground water. Another controversy was generated by legislation passed in 2005 that mandated who and how much would be paid by water users for monitoring of ground water. Sound complicated? I just hope we don’t make it more complicated than it is.

Education: This could be one of the most interesting issues this year since removal of the Maintenance and Operation Levy from the property tax. I have long been saying that because of this change the Legislature will have to become honest about how we fund education. We will no longer be able to pass or not pass the buck, as the case may be, by hiding behind the ability of local districts to pick up the slack with property taxes. The number crunchers will be working overtime as every legislator including myself, makes sure their districts are not adversely affected by the change.

Roads: With GARVEE now in full swing the next shoe to drop will be that there is not enough money to keep up with other highway needs. As I recall that was one of the arguments opponents used not to pass the program in the first place. All of this can be fixed of course by increasing gas tax and registration fees. I have been hauling grain this past week and as I filled my truck with fuel, I just shuddered at the cost. One idea being floated is to impose a sales tax on fuel. That way every time the cost of gas went up you would pay more tax as well. Don’t get me wrong, I like good roads, but just where do all of these increases fit into a family budget?

Corrections: More inmates, more prison space, more cost per day will be the buzz words. Crime really doesn’t pay, it costs. One solution that will be sought is a pilot project being proposed by Rep. JoAn Wood to provide sentencing alternatives to prison.

Medicaid: The Feds didn’t buy the reforms passed last year and that leaves us with laws on the books that will certainly have to be reviewed at a minimum. The Bush administration is proposing sweeping changes to Medicaid and somehow I suspect that will mean the states picking up more of the cost with new mandates attached. Change seems to never mean flexibility so this black hole could get even deeper. And if this year is like most other years several expansions of various kinds will be sought, all at a cost of course.

And if all of these issues were not enough, there will be minimum wage increase legislation, a list of changes sought by the courts to correct mistakes in previously passed laws, mail-in voting replacing election day, and various and sundry enhancements to retirement benefits. If you couple that with the need to meet a schedule imposed by a deadline necessitating moving out of the building, it could be quite a session indeed. As my Uncle would instruct me in this situation, “Do your best, and the best ain’t none too good.”

Posted in Education, Guest Posts, Idaho Falls Issues, Idaho Legislature, Property Rights, Rep. Tom Loertscher, Taxes | No Comments »

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