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Archive for April 2006

Kempthorne wants child programs to continue

Gov. Dirk Kempthorne put out a press release today declaring that he’s “put into place a number of provisions ensuring that the success of his Generation of the Child initiatives – a central focus of his two terms as Governor of Idaho – will continue well into the future.” Those include a series of executive orders that create the Executive Office for Families and Children within the Office of the Governor, and continue the efforts of the Governor’s Coordinating Council for Families and Children, the Early Childhood Coordinating Council, the Governor’s Council on Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention and the Governor’s Task Force for Children at Risk.

Of course, the next executive could issue his own orders. Kempthorne’s Senate confirmation hearing as the nominee for U.S. Secretary of the Interior is May 4th – and if confirmed, he’ll move on to D.C., leaving current Lt. Gov. Jim Risch as Idaho’s new governor.

So who was governor on Friday?

Now that Gov. Dirk Kempthorne is spending most of his time – including all of last week and part of this week – back in D.C. preparing for his confirmation hearings as the nominee for Secretary of the Interior, Lt. Gov. Jim Risch is serving as governor. But on Friday, Risch, in that role, went to Spokane to participate in a meeting with the governors of Washington and Montana and 14 Columbia Basin Indian tribes to talk about regional salmon recovery efforts.

“This historic meeting of three state governments and numerous tribes from across the Columbia River Basin was essential to the ongoing dialogue between the decisions makers working to recover this living symbol of our region,” Risch said of the gathering. “Our meeting continued our tradition of cooperation and added to the foundation for collaborative efforts well into the future.”

But when he was out of state, who was the acting governor back in Boise? Following constitutional succession rules, it was Senate President Pro-tem Bob Geddes, who officially served as governor on Friday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. “Those were the hours he (Risch) was out of state,” said Mike Journee, the governor’s press secretary. Had Geddes not been available, next in line would be House Speaker Bruce Newcomb.

Greg’s tie worked

Greg Hahn, Statehouse reporter for Boise’s Idaho Statesman newspaper, has been on an ugly tie vigil for the past two weeks, trying to convince lawmakers to wrap up their session and head out of town. (Idaho Statehouse tradition, started by former AP correspondent Bob Fick, has it that if reporters just wear really awful ties at the end, the legislators will be so disgusted they’ll leave.)

But no matter how hideous Greg’s neckwear was, legislators kept meeting, stretching their session into its 93rd day today – until Greg showed up wearing this number. He says he’s not sure where the ghastly thing came from; he found it somewhere in the depths of his office. But, he said happily, “It worked.”

Senate is done, too

The Senate has passed its final bills – the Idaho Transportation Department budget, which passed 34-0, and HJM 26, a non-binding memorial encouraging the peace process in the Basque country that passed on a voice vote – and completed its business for the session.

GARVEE bill passes Senate on 34-1 vote

The highway bonding bill just passed the Senate 34-1, with lots of praise for all those who worked on the $200 million compromise plan between lawmakers, the governor, and the Idaho Transportation Department. The bill, which now goes to the governor, includes major upgrades for U.S. Highway 95 in North Idaho, an accident-prone route that is the state’s only north-south highway.

“The section of highway up there has more tragedies than any section in the state,” said Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake. “This seems a little bittersweet, and this is the sweet part of what we’re getting.”

Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, said, “Good senators, my district is going to benefit the most on this bill. We will see $80 million of needed highway projects done in my district alone. I wish to thank … (all those) that have come together to make this happen.”

They’re waiting…

House members have sent a delegation to the Senate and the governor informing them that they’re done with their business and ready to adjourn sine die, but the Senate is still debating House amendments to SB 1501, and that debate is stretching on…

New bill passes Senate on unanimous vote

The Senate has voted unanimously, 35-0, in favor of a new bill, SB 1502, that sponsor Sen. Brad Little, R-Emmett, described as “déjà vu all over again.” It’s the advisory vote measure that the Senate passed earlier, to ask voters if they want to remove the property tax levy that now funds school operations, and replace it with a sales tax increase that’s sufficient to make up the difference.

It also has agreed by unanimous consent to the House amendments to SB 1501, the earlier advisory vote bill that the House amended to also include a cap on growth in the school operations property tax levy. Now, the amended bill will come up in the full Senate for a final debate and vote. Meanwhile, the full House has begun debating the GARVEE bill, with opponents leading off.

House breaks for Transportation Committee meeting

The House has taken a recess to allow its Transportation Committee to meet – that’s the committee where the “Connecting Idaho” road funding bill has been parked all this time, held hostage to political trade-offs on other issues. Now, the bill has its chance to emerge – and bring with it the end of the legislative session today.

Homeowner’s exemption wins final passage in House

The House just voted 60-8 in favor of HB 421a, the bill to increase the homeowner’s exemption from property tax. The bill now goes to the governor. It raises the exemption’s top amount from $50,000 to $75,000, adds in the value of land as well as improvements, and indexes the top amount to housing price inflation in future years.

“This is certainly the people’s bill,” sponsor Rep. Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, told the House. “I don’t think there’s a person out there that doesn’t understand what this bill is about.”

The exemption hasn’t been adjusted for inflation since voters enacted it by initiative in 1982. Lake said that’s caused a subtle shift over the years that left homeowners bearing more and more of the state’s property tax burden. “This bill shifts that back – not in its entirety, in part,” Lake said. “This is good legislation.”

Senators just milling around

Senate Republicans finished up their closed-door caucus more than an hour ago, but they’re not back in session yet – they’re just milling around. “We’re waiting – we don’t have anything on our calendar except for one bill,” said Senate GOP Caucus Chair Brad Little, R-Emmett. The senators are waiting for the House to send them legislation to vote on – including the “Connecting Idaho” road funding bill also known as GARVEE. Little said the caucus focused on “where are we and are we going to get to go home today,” and the answer was: “We don’t know.”

It’s a cap on growth in school property taxes

The House has amended SB 1501 to leave in place an advisory vote on reducing property tax while raising sales tax, but to also add in a 3 percent cap on growth in the school operations levy. It would be effective this year, so the state would have to appropriate an additional $16.2 million in state funds to public schools to make up the shortfall in the fiscal year 2007 budget. The idea is to slow the growth in that portion of the property tax.

No new property tax bill from Rev & Tax meeting

The House Rev & Tax Committee met, and members were surprised to see a new bill in front of them – one that looked oddly familiar. It was Rep. Dell Raybould’s proposal to remove the indexing for inflation from the bill to expand the homeowner’s exemption. The odd thing about that: The same committee had already voted specifically against making that change.

After Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, moved to introduce Raybould’s new bill, Rep. Jim Clark, R-Hayden Lake, offered a substitute motion to return the measure to Raybould. Clark’s motion passed, 12-5. “It was an overwhelming vote to listen to what the people have been saying,” Clark said. “This is the homeowners’ bill. If it’s not indexed, all of the property tax relief will be eaten up in a very short time by the increasing value of homes.”

Clark said he saw the move as a “veiled attempt by the agriculture community” to shift future property taxes back to homeowners.

Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene, said, “I was surprised they had the audacity to bring it forward at this point.”

House blames Senate, plans new legislation

House Speaker Bruce Newcomb just announced to the House that there’s an agreement on the water issue, “So that issue is taken care of. The two issues left are taxes and roads.” Then the House got the word that the Senate had killed its amendments to SB 1404, the last attempt at a property tax bill.

Newcomb said the House Ways and Means Committee will meet at noon, “at which time there probably will be a couple bills come out of there.” Then, at 1:30, the House Revenue and Taxation Committee will meet, and take up “probably the final proposal” on property tax relief. “We’ll see how that plays out,” Newcomb told the House. He said he thought it was important that House members heading home to campaign for re-election be able to deliver property tax relief, but they’re “thwarted at this point by the body across the way.” He added, “I think you might take solace in the fact that you’re not senators.”

Meanwhile, the Senate has recessed until 1:30. At that time, Majority Leader Bart Davis said, they’ll take up any additional bills the House has sent them. And if there isn’t anything new, “then we have an alternate exit strategy” aimed at adjourning for the session “sometime this afternoon.”

Since the “Connecting Idaho” highway funding bill still is being held in committee in the House, that strategy presumably would include adding the funding into the transportation budget bill, which the Senate is holding.

The debate is on

The Senate is back in, and is debating a motion from Sen. Brad Little, R-Emmett, to not concur in the House amendments to SB 1404. Meanwhile, the House is just now convening for the day.

Latest property tax relief plan clears the House

The House has just voted 53-16 in favor of a new property tax relief bill – this one amended into SB 1404, an unrelated bill about school bonds that already had passed the Senate. The newly amended bill now matches up with HB 678, a bill that earlier passed the House, and then was sent back to committee in the Senate after efforts to amend it fell short. That bill would have shifted half the current school operations funding off the property tax.

A companion bill, HB 679, would have raised the sales tax half a cent to make up the lost school funding, but the newly amended bill doesn’t contain that piece. Senators could choose to revive it if they wanted to, since they have HB 679. Or, there’s talk about funding the property tax relief without raising the sales tax – by drawing down the balance in the state’s healthy rainy-day fund, tapping newly increasing state tax revenues, or a combination of the two. With healthy state revenues in March, the state now has roughly $47 million on the table as it looks ahead to next year’s budget, instead of the $13 million it had left unappropriated – if the numbers don’t change. The school funding that would be eliminated from property taxes totals about $104 million.

Some House members warned against the move. “I don’t like the idea of trying to fund property tax relief on the backs of the schools,” declared House Minority Leader Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum.

The measure, in addition to eliminating half the school property tax levy, caps future growth in the remaining half to 3 percent a year, and also directs all state revenues over an 8 percent growth factor into a fund to increase the property tax relief. It contains no exception to ease the impact on four school districts that, because of their property tax situation, would have to raise their taxes dramatically.

Every Panhandle representative from districts 1 through 5 voted in favor of the bill. “I’m going to support this bill even though I don’t really like it,” said Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene. “We’ve hit a dead end on other options.”

It’s unclear how the new bill will fare in the Senate, where, as an amended Senate bill, it will go straight to the full Senate for a vote.

Still pending is the bill to increase the homeowner’s exemption, which has passed both houses overwhelmingly but still needs a final House vote to concur in Senate amendments.

Deals in the works?

The House has recessed until 3 p.m., at which time both the Republicans and Democrats are planning short caucuses before they return to the floor. No committee meetings were announced before the House recessed – not even Rev & Tax – so it doesn’t look like much will happen before that hour, other than behind the scenes. Asked what happens between now and 3 p.m., House Speaker Bruce Newcomb said with a grin, “We work on deals.”

Meeting law amendment passes 64-1

SB 1492a, the amended bill to preserve the Idaho Open Meeting law but add a provision that legislative committee meetings can be closed in certain “extraordinary” circumstances specifically laid out in House or Senate rules, passed the House on a 64-1 vote, with just Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, objecting. Senate leaders originally had written the bill to delete the section of the open meeting law that applies to legislative committees, but after negotiating with the Idaho Press Club, agreed instead to keep the section in law and simply amend it. (Full disclosure here: I’m the president of the Idaho Press Club.) The club had sued the Legislature over closed committee meetings, contending they’re unconstitutional, but had lost on a split 3-2 ruling in the Idaho Supreme Court last month.

Rep. Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, told the House, “I believe this is a good change,” and the bill passed with no debate. It now goes to the governor.

They’re hoping this one doesn’t cause an international incident

The House has approved HJM 26, commending and congratulating all sides in the Basque homeland for moving toward peace, on a unanimous 66-0 vote. But House Speaker Bruce Newcomb had to caution after the vote that he still remembered the last time the House passed a resolution on the Basque homeland. “I turned the chamber over to Pete Cenarrusa and Dave Bieter, they talked Basque,” he recalled, and the House voted – “Only to find out that we had declared war on Spain.” That measure caused a diplomatic flurry, so Newcomb was leery this time, but said he was lobbied by former longtime Idaho Secretary of State Cenarrusa once again, and he couldn’t say no. “I’m hopeful that it is just a memorial of encouragement,” Newcomb told the House. “If there’s anything in there that people might read that we’re declaring was on Spain and France, please ignore it, because we’re not.”

Senate on recess until 2:15 p.m

Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis just told the Senate that, contrary to what some of them appear to believe, no agreement has been reached on aquifer recharge.

“It would be less than fair for me to characterize to the Senate that a resolution has been reached,” he said.

He said negotiations are still going on, and an update meeting is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.

Adjournment is likely if an agreement is reached today, Davis said.

The Senate is on recess until 2:15 p.m.

Monday could be it

Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, just told reporters that a deal has been reached on aquifer recharge and the session will adjourn Monday, likely without the major property tax relief North Idaho wants.

House adjourns in the middle of abortion debate

The House adjourned in the middle of debate on the informed consent abortion bill, SB 1482, after House Minority Leader Wendy Jaquet of Ketchum and the other Democrats walked out in protest of comments made by bill co-sponsor Rep. Bill Sali, R-Kuna.

“It’s kind of an indication of the last days and the hot tempers,” said House Majority Leader Lawerence Denney of Midvale.

Jaquet objected to Sali’s mentioning of studies that link breast cancer to abortion. A breast cancer survivor, Jaquet said she knows that the link has not been proven.

“If it’s not a good study then we should not be using it,” Jaquet said.

House Speaker Bruce Newcomb, R-Burley, put the House at ease and talked with Jaquet, Sali and Denney.

Newcomb said to Sali, “Why stick your finger in people’s eyes?”

The debate continued, and Sali again cited the studies. Jaquet was seen leaving the House chamber, followed by the other members of her party. Procedural rules mandate that both parties be present on the floor if the House is in session, Denney said. The only way to continue the discussion would have been to essentially put the House on lockdown and “arrest” missing lawmakers, Denney said, and he didn’t think that was needed.

“We probably should allow a cooling off period, and we have to come back on Monday anyway,” Denney said.

Jaquet later said she was just getting a tissue.

Newcomb spoke with reporters about Sali, saying “That idiot is just an absolute idiot…He doesn’t have one ounce of empathy in his whole frickin’ body, and you can put that in the paper.”

Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said he walked out to support his party.

“We have enough of people twisting the truth in closing debate, but to be called on and do it again,” he said, trailing off.

“I don’t think the system is properly presenting the issue,” said Rep. Mike Mitchell, D-Lewiston.

The Senate and House are both adjourned until Monday.

On second thought…

John Miller of The Associated Press reports that House Speaker Bruce Newcomb rescinded his punishments for Reps. Bill Sali, R-Kuna, and Tom Loertscher, R-Iona.

Miller reports:

“The Burley Republican yielded to advice from colleagues who advised him against such a move in the waning days of his final legislative session.

Newcomb later told the chamber he was retracting the letters, saying he didn’t want to leave the session on a sour note. Since Thursday morning, lawmakers including House Majority Leader Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, had been trying to get Newcomb to reconsider what would have been one of his last acts as speaker. Newcomb is resigning from the Legislature after 20 years.”

The revoking of the committee seats was an apparent attempt at revenge for Sali’s challenging Newcomb’s ruling on Wednesday that the combination property tax bill, HB 876, can’t be divided into separate votes. Loertscher was the only other lawmaker to support Sali’s appeal.

Newcomb’s revenge?

House Speaker Bruce Newcomb, R-Burley, stripped Rep. Bill Sali, R-Kuna, of his committee seats today, an apparent attempt at revenge for Sali’s challenging Newcomb’s ruling on Wednesday that the combination property tax bill, HB 876, can’t be divided into separate votes.

Sali, a candidate for the 1st District congressional seat, sat on the Health and Welfare Committee and Judiciary and Rules Committee, neither of which is expected to meet again this session.

“In the end it is a senseless display of vindictiveness against me that is unbecoming of his position….For the Speaker’s own sake I hope he will reconsider his actions,” Sali said in a written statement. He said he did not mean Wednesday’s challenge to be an attack on Newcomb.

Sali previously chaired the Health and Welfare Committee but was stripped of his chairmanship by Newcomb two years ago.

Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, the only one to join Sali in voting for the appeal, was also removed from his committee seats.

More eyes on Boise

I’m off Thursday and Friday for a long-planned family gathering, but Spokesman-Review reporter Meghann Cuniff will be keeping an eye on Boise in my absence, and posting updates to this blog. Got tips for Meghann? Contact her at meghann.cuniff@gmail.com

HB 876 clears Senate committee on 5-4 vote

The big combo property tax reform bill, HB 876, just cleared the Senate Local Government & Tax Committee on a 5-4 vote, after more than an hour-long hearing in a surprisingly packed Gold Room – the Capitol’s largest hearing room – despite just moments of notice before the meeting began.

“There’s a little bit of something in there for everybody,” said Sen. Stan Williams, R-Pingree. The bill includes raising the homeowner’s exemption to $75,000, removing the $3 per $1,000 property tax levy for school operations, and raising the sales tax to 6.25 percent to cover the lost school funding plus set up a $12 million school emergency fund to hedge against short revenues in the future.

Sen. Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, said he was supporting moving the bill out of committee and to the full Senate without recommendation to let the full Senate vote – partly because there are no senators from the Panhandle on the committee. “My friends in the northern part of the state have asked me to let them vote on this issue,” McKenzie said.

Sen. David Langhorst, D-Boise, opposed the bill, saying it would result in an overall tax increase for lower-income taxpayers. “It seems like a hoax,” he said. “The people we are trying to offer relief to are the ones who will see a tax increase, and I can’t vote for that.”

Committee Chair Hal Bunderson, R-Meridian, opposed the bill, saying lawmakers don’t know the full, long-term impact of the changes it makes in the state’s tax structure. Plus, he said, it would reduce local control of schools. “We have taken a significant step away from local control when we make these kinds of financial decisions for our schools,” Bunderson said.

The Senate may vote on the bill in the morning.

Whoops…

It turns out that the House recessed without first taking the formal step of transmitting the bill it’d just passed to the Senate – which means it hasn’t arrived over there, and the Senate can’t refer it to committee and hold a 2 p.m. committee hearing. So now the Senate is doing the other bills on its calendar, and waiting for the House to come back and send the bill over. That means the committee meeting is being delayed until sometime after 3…

Speaker wins hands-down

The House just voted 65-2 to uphold Speaker Bruce Newcomb’s ruling in a face-off with Rep. Bill Sali, R-Kuna, over Sali’s attempt to split up the various parts that make up HB 876, the combination property tax reform bill. “The decision of the speaker has been upheld,” declared Majority Leader Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale. Now they’re back to debating the bill.

Incidentally, the only other vote against the speaker, besides Sali’s, was from Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona.

The debate is on

The House is vigorously debating HB 876, the new combo bill that lumps together increasing the homeowner’s exemption, removing the school maintenance property tax levy, and raising the sales tax by 1.25 cents to make up the lost school funding. Among the points brought up thus far: Rep. Jim Clark, R-Hayden Lake, noted that out-of-staters pay part of the sales tax in Idaho when they visit the state as tourists. “Somebody’s gonna help us pay for our own property tax bill – that’s not a bad deal,” Clark told the House.

Meanwhile, the Senate is debating appropriation bills while it waits to see what the House does. The Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee has posted an agenda for a meeting at 2 p.m. to deal with a new bill calling for an advisory vote on whether to shift school operations funding from property tax to sales tax and to consider “all House property tax bills passed in the House prior to the committee’s 2:00 p.m. meeting,” including HB 876.

North Idaho secede from the state?

A passing remark in Senate debate yesterday from Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, has prompted talk about North Idaho seceding from the state – though Jorgenson cautioned this morning, “I don’t know of any formal effort to try and do that, but there are people who say it.”

Jorgenson was debating in favor of SJR 108, a constitutional amendment to shift school operations funding from the property tax to the sales tax. He noted the outcry for property tax relief in North Idaho. “People in the north have been sending signals for a long time,” he said. “It’s evolved into tax initiatives and turning school bonds down. These things all lend themselves to regionalism – God forgive me, I apologize from the bottom of my heart for having to say it, but it gives rise to secession.”

Jorgenson said this morning, “We just want to be heard, and we’re not being heard.” The constitutional amendment failed yesterday because it didn’t get a two-thirds vote – but legislation to do the same thing, which requires only a majority vote, is scheduled to be debated in the House today.

Jorgenson had no comment on whether, if North Idaho secedes, it should join Washington, Montana or Canada.

House Rev & Tax concurs in two bills, adds a new one

The House Revenue & Taxation Committee just got out, after an hour-long meeting in which it reached several significant decisions on remaining property tax reform issues:

The panel unanimously agreed to concur in Senate amendments to both HB 421, increasing the homeowner’s exemption, and HB 422, expanding the “circuit breaker” tax break for the elderly and disabled. Those now go back to the full House. However, they also approved a new bill that may become an alternative to HB 421.

The new measure includes everything that was in HB 421 – raising the top amount of the homeowner’s exemption from $50,000 to $75,000, including land rather than just the value of improvements, and tying the top amount to inflation in the future through the Idaho Housing Index. But the new bill also includes removing the entire school maintenance and operations property tax levy, and replacing the lost school funding by raising the sales tax from its current 5 percent to 6.25 percent. The new combo bill is co-sponsored by Reps. Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly; Jim Clark, R-Hayden Lake; and Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot.

AP: One JFAC member often wasn’t there, due to gun shows

Here’s an interesting report just in from reporter John Miller of the Associated Press:

“BOISE, Idaho (AP) – A state senator from a Boise suburb who sits on the committee that divvies up Idaho’s $2.34 billion state budget missed nearly one in three committee votes this year, in part because he was preparing for gun shows. The absences of Sen. Gerry Sweet, R-Meridian, drew criticism from some lawmakers who say he hasn’t paid enough attention to one of the Legislature’s most important panels. Sweet didn’t vote on 63 of 200 budget bills for fiscal year 2007, based on figures provided by the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee to The Associated Press.

Sweet missed votes during at least 15 meetings, including March 29 and March 30, when the 20-member committee put together a $35.4 million final budget package that contained Gov. Dirk Kempthorne’s “Experience Idaho” parks program. The Meridian lawmaker says his business - he’s a gun dealer who sells weapons over the Internet and at gun shows, including one last weekend in Boise - has grown this year, keeping him away from the Statehouse. Sweet, who missed 17 votes on the budget panel during the 2005 Legislature, agreed the committee is the Legislature’s most important, “the one that probably has the greatest impact.” Still, Sweet said his business, Shooter’s Wholesale Inc., has grown this year and often drew him away from the Capitol. “It’s hard for people that are small business owners to serve in the Legislature and maintain their small business,” Sweet told the AP, adding he’d hoped the Legislature would have already ended by the time spring gun shows had begun.

Sweet, who doesn’t have a Republican challenger in the May 23 primary but faces Democrat Laurynda A. Williams in the November general election, said he plans to return to the budget committee next year if re-elected. Others Republicans on the budget panel said it’s up to constituents to decide whether their lawmakers are attending enough meetings to properly represent them. “You lose out on representing your constituents if you aren’t there to vote,” said Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, who was gone for just seven budget-committee votes. “I was fortunate enough to be picked for a powerful committee. I’m going to take advantage of that wherever I can. We’re the guardians of the people’s money.””

Senate kills constitutional amendment, 18-17

The Idaho Senate just voted 18-17 in favor of SJR 108, the bill to amend the state Constitution to shift school operations funding off the property tax and raise the sales tax to make up the difference – but that wasn’t enough to pass the measure, which needed two-thirds approval.

Sen. Brad Little, R-Emmett, urged support for the bill. “Let’s let the voters, the same wise people that elected us, address this vexing problem,” he told the Senate. If the amendment had received two-thirds support in both the House and Senate, it would have gone to voters in November.

Opponents had a variety of reasons for rejecting the measure, with some saying it merely would postpone property tax reform for another year, and others saying a shift from one tax to another wasn’t real reform.

“We have the power to remove the 3 mills (the school operations property tax levy) today, and to raise the sales tax to replace it,” said Sen. Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston. “In my opinion, we ought to do that.”

Sen. Gerry Sweet, R-Meridian, said, “Shifting from one tax to another is not true tax relief. … We have failed to address the most significant component, and that is spending.”

Several North Idaho senators spoke out strongly in favor of the amendment. Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, who co-chaired an interim committee that held hearings around the state on property tax reform, said changing market values on homes have little to do with the cost of adequately funding education. “The citizens of Idaho should have a full-on debate about … our tax structure,” Keough told the Senate. “The K-12 system is the Legislature’s responsibility. We need to take that responsibility into our general fund. … That piece is ours, and that’s why I support this resolution.”

Still pending in the House is a bill to make the same shift, but by statute, without amending the Constitution. The House is at ease now, and there’s some talk of the other major property tax reform bills – increasing the homeowner’s exemption and the “circuit breaker” tax break for the low-income elderly and disabled – coming back out of committee.

Gold-colored campaign pins back an array of new lt gov candidates

Coeur d’Alene Rep. Bob Nonini was walking around wearing a gold, oval-shaped button today that said, “Cathyanne Nonini for Lieutenant Governor.” And Rep. Eric Anderson had one that said, “Nicky Anderson for Lieutenant Governor.” Nonini joked that his wife would have an edge on Anderson’s in the race, since Anderson’s is still technically a citizen of New Zealand (though Anderson said she’s applied for U.S. citizenship). Rep. Mike Moyle, R-Star, wore a pin saying, “Sue Ann Moyle for Lieutenant Governor.” Prominent lobbyist Skip Smyser, who wore a similar pin saying, “Melinda Smyser for Lieutenant Governor,” may have been the source of the gag, which got plenty of mileage as lawmakers gathered on the lawn across the capitol after a smoke-caused evacuation. The interest of Idaho First Lady Patricia Kempthorne in a possible appointment to the post – which will open up when her husband is confirmed as the new Interior secretary and current Lt. Gov. Jim Risch becomes governor – has prompted lots of talk.

Rep. Dolores Crow, R-Nampa, was wearing a gold pin, too. So whose did hers promote? It said, “Dolores Crow for Lieutenant Governor.” Said a smiling Crow, “Well of course – who else would I be supporting?”

First hostage bill released

The Senate has moved HB 791 on its way, the bill to impose a two-year moratorium on new coal-fired plants. The measure had already passed both houses, but last week when House Speaker Bruce Newcomb hijacked several other bills and sent them back to House committees, including the GARVEE road bonding plan, angry senators withheld a signature that’s mainly a formality, preventing Newcomb’s moratorium bill from moving on to the governor. Now it’s off – which could signal that things are starting to fall into place. There are also rumors that a new water bill is surfacing in the House…

Capitol reopened, back in business

The state capitol was reopened at 10:55 a.m. Mountain time, and folks poured back in to start up again a legislative session that’s dragged into its 85th day.

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About this blog

Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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