House members are filtering in slowly this morning after their four-day weekend; House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said it may be "1-ish" before the House convenes today. Bedke said, "We'll go on the floor, and we'll see if there have been any bills transmitted from the Senate." If not, the House may recess until later in the afternoon. By the end of the day, he said, "I suspect that we will adjourn regularly, then repeat the process tomorrow." That's in direct contradiction to an op-ed piece from the House GOP leadership that apparently was sent out to some news outlets on Friday, and was published on Idaho Statesman editorial page editor Kevin Richert's blog (click below to read it in full), in which the leaders wrote, "It’s doubtful that we will do much more than convene and adjourn sine die again. We fully agree that this is a poor way of spending $30,000 of taxpayer money. But until the Senate concurs, House members have no choice but to return every three days."
Bedke said this morning, "We need to be ready. We want to bring this to closure. That's going to take the cooperation of the Senate, and we need to stand ready." Bedke and other House GOP leaders also were concerned this morning about the state's latest revenue figures. Preliminary numbers for April - the state's biggest revenue month by far - show state tax revenues coming in $31.5 million below projections, at $388.7 million, rather than the official projection of $420.2 million. There had been speculation, however, that the April revenues might be off by as much as $125 million, prompting Gov. Butch Otter on Friday to proclaim that they were better than expected, and state Chief Economist Mike Ferguson to say, "We dodged a bullet." Bedke and other House GOP leaders stressed that the figure still is below the projection for the month - so House leaders are still worried about the prospect of raising gas taxes in a time of economic pain. "You can put whatever spin you want to," Bedke said.
This is nothing personal, but the people’s business in this legislative session has been completed. Looking around the Statehouse Annex last Friday, and seeing nothing happening in either legislative chamber, only confirmed this feeling.
We have finished all the appropriation bills and acted on the other pieces of legislation on our calendar. So we did what any other Idahoan would do when the job is finished: We adjourned for the year and most members went to their homes. If the Senate follows that course, we can stop reading these awful stories about how each day of a legislative session costs $30,000.
The Senate has not concurred with our adjournment, meaning we’ll be back for a brief session on Monday afternoon. However, with all our bills off the calendar, it’s doubtful that we will do much more than convene and adjourn sine die again. We fully agree that this is a poor way of spending $30,000 of taxpayer money. But until the Senate concurs, House members have no choice but to return every three days.
Again, this is nothing personal. We’ve heard speculation that House members were being defiant of the Governor, or there may be some kind of vendetta with the Senators. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The Governor is our friend and the leader of our party. We have the utmost respect for our colleagues in the Senate. We may disagree on occasions — which is part of the legislative process — but we never doubt the convictions or sincerity of our friends.
This brings us to transportation funding, the issue that won’t go away. The Governor has made it clear he wants $80 million in new taxes (mostly fuel taxes) to spend for road maintenance, or to at least pay the interest on GARVEE bonding. House members — Republicans and Democrats — have made it equally clear that the votes are not there for that level of taxation during a recession. We approved eliminating the exemption on ethanol and raising some administrative fees within the Division of Motor Vehicles, but most House members have made it crystal clear that they will not support an added fuel tax.
The House Transportation Committee had many lengthy hearings on transportation-funding proposals. We had six votes on the House floor and all were rejected by a majority of the House, including House Democrats.
The Governor invited the people of Idaho to contract legislators about transportation and the people responded overwhelmingly against the gas tax. Our view is we need to respect the will of the people
So, we’re at an impasse. The only way we felt it could be broken was by creating an interim committee to take a broad look at the funding needs and submit recommendations for the 2010 session. There is time for an interim committee to work effectively on this issue. We agree that the issue of road funding needs to be addressed, but with more than $1.1 billion available for roads, the urgency is not immediate.
It’s amazing to see what happens when people calmly work for the common good. A year ago, for instance, who could have imagined that we’d have resolution on the Swan Falls water controversy?
The same kind of magic can occur on transportation if we would just put down our political swords and allow it to happen.
For the moment, it’s time to go home. The people’s work is finished.