Archive for May 8, 2009
Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on the final day of Idaho’s legislative session today - the 117th day - and here’s a link to my sidebar on the snafu in which Rep. Frank Henderson’s Garwood-to-Sagle bill got killed in the House - twice - and why he’s still happy.
Tonight on “Idaho Reports” on Idaho Public TV, I join a large panel of politicians and pundits to discuss the just-concluded session; the show airs at 8 p.m. on Idaho Public TV, and re-airs both Saturday and Sunday; check your local listings or see the IPTV website here, where you can also watch the show online after it airs. Tune in and check it out.
Otter’s message as lawmakers leave town: “If an admittedly stop-gap measure can provide a level of certainty and predictability, this is it. Our work is just beginning, but this will enable us to meet our most immediate needs … while planning how best to pay for the maintenance, repair and improvement projects that our $16 billion highway system so badly needs.” He added, “This was never about any particular way of generating the revenue we need to fulfill this proper role of government. This was about acknowledging the challenge and making a commitment now to meeting it. That’s been achieved.”
In a news release, Otter said, “I’m pleased that this agreement focuses on the need for continuing sources of revenue to meet our responsibilities, to help ensure the safety of our people and the vitality of our economy. This plan reflects the understanding that the people of Idaho need good roads, and that it is state government’s job to respond efficiently and effectively to that need.”
“I’m a user-pay guy, and the people that buy gasoline use the roads,” Gov. Butch Otter said, explaining why he wanted a gas tax hike to fix roads. But he said more than that, he wants revenue to fix the roads, and he wants certainty that the fixes will happen. He said, “I would like to see another source of dedicated funding,” other than the state’s general fund.
Opening his press conference at the close of the legislative session, Gov. Butch Otter said he wanted to “run over” some of what happened, then stopped himself, amid laughter, saying perhaps that wasn’t the best phrase. “I’ve already signed 313 pieces of legislation,” he said. Six more became law without his signature; he vetoed 36, “only three were for cause,” and more await action on his desk. “So we have had a lot of accomplishments and a lot of work,” Otter said. “Obviously the fact that we finished 117 days as of today … No other session in the history of the state was confronted with the problems and the surprises that the first session of the 60th Legislature was confronted with this year.” So, he said, “My congratulations to the legislative leadership, my congratulations to the House and the Senate for the work that’s been completed. Obviously, we’ve got a lot of work to do in the next seven months.” On transportation, he said, “I believe we’re in agreement that we do have a short-term solution only.” Two state task forces will have to come up with the longer-term answers, he said.
When Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, moved to adjourn the House for the session - sine die - Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, responded, “Mr. Speaker, I can’t tell you how happy I am to second that motion.” Unlike most days, when Speaker Lawerence Denney called for “nays” from anyone opposed to the motion, not a soul spoke up. Amid laughter, Denney banged the gavel and the House adjourned sine die.
“This is kind of tough for me,” House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, told the House just now. When SB 1147, the bill to allow design-build contracts at ITD, arrived at the House, it’d been amended in the Senate. “To kind of clarify one of the errors that they made, they decided to kind of tack two bills together,” Moyle told the House. “And they don’t fit together, there’s two subjects there. … It’s upsetting to me. I offer my apologies to the gentleman from District 5, but we can’t proceed with the bill the way it’s written, they’re separate subjects. It’s foul play.” That means Rep. Frank Henderson’s proposal to eliminate a two-mile gap of two-lane road at the south end of the Garwood-to-Sagle highway project also dies; that’s what the Senate amended into the bill.
The Idaho Senate has adjourned sine die, Latin for “without a day,” meaning they’ve ended their work for the legislative session. Lt. Gov. Brad Little banged a rubber mallet on a foot-long wooden handle that serves as his Senate gavel, to close the session. “Very, very hard decisions had to be made,” Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, told the Senate shortly before the gavel fell. “This body has demonstrated year in and year out a desire to do what is in the long-term interest of this state, and for that I am grateful.” His comments were followed by various thank-you’s, including to legislative staffers and budget analysts. “Of the years that I have been here, they’ve never been put through the wringer … quite like they were this year,” Davis said. Senate President Pro-tem Bob Geddes, R-Soda Springs, noted, “In just 244 days, give or take a day or two, we’ll be back in session.” He said, “Senators, it’s time for us to go home.”
The Senate has passed its final bill, SB 1245, the appropriation for the agricultural research and cooperative extension service. Now, with some final comments, the Senate is preparing to adjourn.
The Senate has voted 27-3 in favor of SB 1147, the bill from Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, to allow ITD to have design-build contracts. The bill also now includes the original thrust of HB 286, the measure from Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, to pinpoint the starting point of the Garwood-to-Sagle freeway project on Highway 95 in North Idaho; that bill died today after the House refused to concur with an unrelated Senate amendment that had been attached, regarding a stretch of road in eastern Idaho. The Senate now has just one bill left to pass, an agency budget bill, before it can adjourn sine die, for the session.
The Senate has just agreed to amend SB 1147, the design-build bill for ITD - adding into it the sections from HB 286 about the Garwood-to-Sagle project on Highway 95 in North Idaho. Senate Transportation Chairman John McGee, R-Caldwell, told the Senate, “These amendments should look very familiar to you.” He added, “I would remind you also that nothing gets approved for funding in the GARVEE program without the approval of the ITD board.”
The House has voted unanimously, 58-0, on final passage of HB 338, the ethanol bill as amended in the Senate. “We’re still waiting on one appropriation bill from the Senate to come over,” said Rep. Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, the House majority caucus chairman. The House then went at ease, likely for an hour or an hour and a half, according to Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star.
HB 303a, a controversial education funding bill that spawned a following “trailer” bill, has won final approval in the House as amended in the Senate. The vote was 57-2.
Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, asked the House to not concur in the Senate amendments to his bill, HB 286, and the House unanimously agreed. Henderson said lawmakers long ago signed onto policies stating that they wouldn’t pick highway projects, they’d leave that role to the Idaho Transportation Board. “The goal of these policies and procedures was to limit, to the extent possible, the political tug of war as to where and when improvements were made,” Henderson told the House. “These are the guidelines we have followed during my five years in the House. … I believe these policies have served us well.”
Henderson said he fully recognized that his move could prevent enactment of his original bill, which sought to eliminate a 2-mile gap of two-lane road at the south end of the Garwood-to-Sagle freeway project in North Idaho. “I feel that sustaining highway funding and procedures we have followed for years is much more important than the technical corrections 286 would have provided,” he told the House.
Henderson said he had no objection to the first amendment the Senate attached to his bill, and ITD testified in favor of it. Like his original bill, it merely pinpointed the end of the Garwood-to-Sagle project, this time at its north end. The second, however, which added a new reference to a 26-mile stretch of road in eastern Idaho that’s not currently in the GARVEE bond-funded construction program, was different. “It is my judgment that the 26 miles of roadway contained in the amendment … would represent an entirely new and very large GARVEE project.,” Henderson said. That, he said, needs approval from the state transportation board.
The House has been waiting around all morning for the Senate to send it the last few bills. Now, the House is preparing to go on the floor. First up: “Probably not concur to the Senate amendments in HB 286,” said House Majority Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly. Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, sponsor of the bill, said he’ll speak his piece on the issue when the House goes into session. Then the House is likely to take up HB 303a, an education funding bill the Senate passed this morning, concurrence in the amended ethanol bill, and whatever else is left. “We need three appropriation bills and we’re going home,” Roberts said. The Senate, so far this morning, has passed two of those three.
Senators have reluctantly approved HB 376, to shift the ISP and state parks off the highway fund a year from now, as of July 1, 2010. Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, dubbed it “pretty much a shell game” and said it offers “an illusion of having a solution.” Said Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, “This isn’t ideal, but it is far from an illusion.” He said, “This will force us to look at that situation, knowing that at a minimum, the state general fund will have to fill that hole next year for both state police and parks and rec.” Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, said he’s been getting emails from constituents, “saying please do not take funds from parks and rec,” and he wanted assurance that the bill doesn’t do that. Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, the bill’s Senate sponsor, said it doesn’t. Parks won’t be affected in the coming year, she said, and for the next year, “The Legislature is charged and has clearly expressed an intent that we will find replacement money.”
Senate Transportation Chairman John McGee, R-Caldwell, said, “It’s kind of like the song, you don’t always get what you want, and this is a good example of that.” McGee said he favored more funding for road maintenance, but short of that, “what HB 376 does, it allows us to take that first step, it is a piece of that first step of properly maintaining our roads and bridges here in Idaho.” Keough said the bill isn’t her ideal transportation funding measure, either. State transportation officials have cut back on snow plowing in North Idaho due to the maintenance funding crunch, she said - something she sees directly as a regular commuter from Sandpoint to Coeur d’Alene. “I drive … in six inches of slush, because ITD doesn’t have maintenance money to plow on a regular basis,” she told the Senate. “This isn’t about me, it’s about the traveling public taking their life in their hands to get to work, to get to school.” Said Keough, “I don’t like what we’re doing here … but this is what we have here today.” It includes “our promise that we will backfill, some way, somehow, those pots of money,” she said. It passed, 24-7.
HB 286a, Rep. Frank Henderson’s bill to pinpoint the southern end of the Garwood-to-Sagle freeway project on Highway 95 in North Idaho, came up for a vote in the Senate as amended - with two Senate additions. One also pinpoints the northern end of the same project. The other adds a 26-mile stretch of road in eastern Idaho near the Idaho National Laboratory to the list of GARVEE bond-funded projects that includes the North Idaho corridor. There wouldn’t be any funding for that stretch, but sponsor Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said the move would bring attention, and possible future federal funding, to safety hazards on that road. Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, spoke against the move, and Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, said he agreed with Werk. “We are way out of bounds on process,” Fulcher told the Senate. “By passing this, we’ll just be negating that process.”
Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, called the bill crucial, because it would eliminate a two-mile gap of two-lane highway at the south end of the proposed new four-lane Garwood-to-Sagle freeway, between there and the existing four-lane highway. “Essentially without this addition, all of the work, all of the expense would be for naught,” Jorgenson said, because with the gap, Highway 95 still “becomes a virtual bottleneck and an extreme risk. The purpose of the expansion was to provide safety.” Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, said the project isn’t in his district. “But doggone it, it’s a real critical piece of highway,” with serious safety problems, he said. “From my perspective, it’s the right thing to do.” The bill passed, 24-7. It now goes back to the House for possible concurrence in the Senate amendments.
After much debate, the Senate has passed HB 374, House Education Chairman Bob Nonini’s virtual education bill, on a 23-9 vote. Sen. Dick Sagness, D-Pocatello, charged that the bill was part of a deal with the House, and if the Senate didn’t go along with it, the House would kill the Senate-amended HB 303a, depriving schools of flexibility with some of their funds during the coming year’s budget crunch. Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, told the Senate there was “no negative quid pro quo,” and senators were free to vote their conscience.
Senate Assistant Majority Leader Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston, debated against the bill, which removes a “sunset” clause or expiration from the earlier bill, HB 303a, to make the virtual education funding piece in that bill expire in two years. “The sunset was a good idea when it went in place, I see no value to the system to remove it at this time,” Stegner said, saying it would prompt an evaluation of the program. Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, said she feared the bill would encourage cash-strapped school districts to let teachers go and just “park some of those kids in front of a computer.” The bill encourages school districts to offer online classes, and lets them use funding that otherwise would go to hire teachers. “This is not intended to hurt teachers,” Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, the bill’s Senate sponsor, told the Senate. “This is intended to provide one more tool for our educators to use in teaching our children, and a two-year sunset just does not need to be there.”
Tempers flared in the Senate just now, as Sen. Dick Sagness, D-Pocatello, was gaveled down mid-debate on HB 374, the virtual education bill. Sagness, speaking against the bill, addressed its Senate sponsor, Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, and said, “You said on the floor, good senator…” at which Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis rose to object, and Senate President Pro-Tem Bob Geddes cut Sagness off with a sharp rap of his gavel. “You do not lecture,” Davis admonished Sagness. “You’re way out of line.” He told Sagness the Senate would take a three- to five-minute break so Sagness could “compose” himself, to which Sagness responded, “I’m perfectly composed. You’ve never seen me out of composure. If you saw me out of composure, you’d know it.” The Senate is now in recess.
Next, the Senate took up HCR 34, the resolution to endorse a gubernatorial task force to explore long-term transportation funding issues. “Senators, this is part of the going-home transportation package and I would urge your aye vote,” Senate Transportation Chairman John McGee, R-Caldwell, told the Senate. Sen. Chuck Coiner, R-Twin Falls, said, “We’re just pushing down the road what we should be doing today.” But he compared it to the process that eventually led to agreement on the Comprehensive Aquifer Management Program this year. “Hopefully out of this we could get some resolution, and I’m just hopeful it could be as successful as the CAMP process was for the ESPA,” the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer, Coiner said. Said McGee, “I’m optimistic and I hope, … I’m confident it can be successful, that we can work together as a task force and come up with some long-term solutions to some of the transportation funding issues that we have in the state of Idaho.” The vote was 30-1, with the sole “no” vote coming from Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise.
The Senate this morning dived right into business, taking up HCR 32, the House-passed measure to create a task force to find a new dedicated funding source for the Idaho State Police and the Idaho Department of Parks & Recreation. “I think this body understands this is not the ideal way to fund transportation, but it is the way before us and the way to get this session concluded,” Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, told the Senate. “In my opinion, funding for the state police is critical to the public health and safety of our citiezens, and it’s critical that it be a dedicated ongoing source of funds so that it’s not subject to the whims and the economic winds of the day. … Now we’ll be forced to try to come up with another source of funds.” The measure passed the Senate unanimously, 31-0.
The House Transportation Committee is holding a hearing this morning on a bill that actually hasn’t yet passed the Senate. SB 1147a, from Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, would allow the Idaho Transportation Department to enter into design-build contracts, something that’s been permitted for other public works projects in the state since 1987. The department could do that only after a negotiated rule-making process. The idea is that the House committee will already have heard the bill, allowing it to go right to the House’s second reading calendar once the Senate passes the measure. The bill is now on the Senate’s third reading calendar.