Idaho’s House and Senate Democrats held a joint press conference this morning to respond to Gov. Dirk Kempthorne’s State of the State message last night and point to their own priorities. Among their points:
• Senate Minority Leader Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum, called Kempthorne’s $50-per-person energy cost rebate a “gimmick,” because it’d go to the wealthiest Idahoans as well as the poorest. “The money the governor has earmarked for this would be far better spent giving energy assistance to Idaho’s poorest residents, and there would still be plenty left over to fix the state’s crumbling schools,” Stennett said.
• Democrats want to raise Idaho’s minimum wage a dollar, from $5.15 to $6.15 an hour.
• They’re calling for a 4 percent pay raise for all state employees, including teachers. Kempthorne is proposing a 3 percent pay raise effective at the end of this month for state employees excluding teachers, and a 2.5 percent pay raise for teachers next year, along with a boost in the minimum teacher salary.
• House Minority Leader Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, said, “Since the governor has failed to lead the way on property tax reform, we will step up to the issue ourselves.” Democrats are backing a doubling of the homeowner’s exemption, repeal of a loophole that allows some land speculators and developers to pay almost no property tax, and allowing local option taxes to pay for infrastructure in high-growth areas. They also back expanding the “circuit breaker” exemption for low-income seniors and the disabled, agreeing with Kempthorne on that one.
• The Democrats also called for ethics reforms, schoolhouse repairs, re-examining sales tax exemptions, rejecting construction of coal-fired energy plants and more.
Stennett had an example ready on the $50 energy checks, but had to ad-lib a little due to a front-page headline in Boise’s Idaho Statesman today about Don Simplot, oldest son of J.R. Simplot, filing for bankruptcy due to a string of failed business ventures. “J.R. Simplot doesn’t need another fifty bucks,” Stennett said, adding in a mutter to laughter, “maybe someone in the family does.”
Stennett was asked about Kempthorne’s proposal to spend $2 million to purchase 30 acres of additional land around the Simplot mansion that wasn’t included in J.R. and Esther Simplot’s donation of the home to the state for a future governor’s mansion. Said Stennett, “It’s turning out to be a fairly expensive gift.”