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What’s Going On in the Idaho Legislature

February 20th, 2008 by Halli

This article is a newsletter written by Representative Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs. I am very pleased to have received permission to post it here, as readers will find it another useful tool for tracking issues in the Idaho Legislature.

From Rep. Ken Andrus, District 29

If you thought the Legislature would get out by mid-March (two weeks earlier than normal) this year, don’t bet your kids’ school lunch money on it!

The talk that temporary, close, inconvenient quarters would prompt a short session is echoing more faintly each day. The major issues are still unresolved and opposing sides are trenching in.

The driving force for this year’s session is the weakening economy. Projected shortfalls in income by which budgets are set for 2009 spending have fallen at least $40 million since the first of the year.

Too many Legislators remember 2002 when the budget didn’t balance and a 1% sales tax increase was approved for two years. A painful road that no one wants to travel again.

As I’ve predicted since October; ISTARS is one of the most controversial issues of the session. The $48 million (originally $60 million) funding for teachers’ salary enhancements proposed by State Superintendent Tom Luna is in limbo now in the Senate Education Committee. The fact that it’s not moving through the system means there’re problems – either not enough money to fund it, or it might die by committee vote, or there’s strong opposition and a compromise is trying to be worked out. Likely the latter. The IEA and most of the teachers opposed it.

Participation in dog fighting will be changed from a misdemeanor to a felony. The public outcry has been heard. The Oneida County incident and Michael Vick cinched that. The interesting part is the number of Legislators who want to carry the bill this year.

The House just passed a $20 million comprehensive statewide aquifer study. Question is why not use the money to build a aquifer recharge infra-structure. The study is justified as it will once and for all tell us surface water – ground water relationships, how to best recharge the aquifer, and provide a statewide model as to how to most efficiently use our water. Keeping more of it here in Idaho and inflict less pain when shortages occur.

A major issue of interest to all is grocery tax. Last year conflicting plans between Governor Otter and the Legislature resulted in a stalemate. Governor Otter is still hanging tough on his plan to increase the credit on your state tax forms and provide more relief to the low income. Some in the Legislature wanted across the board credits. Last week a compromise plan went down in the Revenue and Tax Committee. It is hard to conceive we would adjourn without some sort of a Grocery Tax bill.

The personal property tax repeal that so many of you were hoping for and planning on does not look good. To offset the $100 or so million annually the tax brings to the state, repealing several categories of current tax exemptions were targeted, only one received a hearing–the exemption for vending machines and it was defeated in the Revenue and Tax Committee. Sadly, without a revenue source to fill the gap for removing personal property tax, I predict there won’t be a personal property tax repeal this session.

GARVEE funding for road construction is getting less popular. Too much is skimmed off the top to administer the bonds and we are not seeing our roads constructed very fast. We will likely revert to the “pay as you go” method and hopefully see more accountability.

A contentious issue is Local Option Tax Authority – carried over from last year. Residents and several Treasure Valley City and County officials want the authority to tax themselves to help themselves (for transportation infra-structure) and to fund public transportation. Why would any Legislator deny that free agency? But wait – as usual the devil is in the details; federal funds will be granted and in order to leverage them, state matching funds are required, derived from the states’ budget.

Mandated spending for dedicated funds going to increasing costs of health care and corrections will, as usual, take a big slice of the budget. A $70 million mental health treatment center in the prison system was recommended by Governor Otter in the State of the State Address. Fifty million dollars of that was appropriated last year. Although expensive, it may actually reduce future corrections costs. Studies show over 50% of prison inmates suffer with mental illness. The goal is to treat them and get them back into society to be a productive citizen.

A bill was introduce to ban “shooter bull” operations on elk farms, but didn’t have the momentum to pass.
Vote by mail and permanent absentee ballots are also unresolved issues.

As usual, there are several hundred bills introduced covering about as wide a range of subjects as your mind can imagine. Many die in committee, others die after debate and vote in either the House Chambers or the Senate. Some are vetoed by the Governor and the remaining become law that govern you and me.

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