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Eye On Boise

Posts tagged: Secure Rural Schools

Catching up: From Denney eyeing higher office to extension of county payments…

Catching up on some of the news from while I was gone over the past week:

DENNEY EYES HIGHER OFFICE:  Former Idaho House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, filed initial paperwork to run for Idaho Secretary of State, an office long held by incumbent Ben Ysursa, a Republican; you can read an AP report here on Denney’s move. Ysursa hasn’t said yet whether he’ll be seeking re-election; in an email to Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey, he said, “I intend to make my future plans known within the next few weeks. Until then I really have no comment.”

STATE SURPLUS BIGGER THAN REPORTED? Former state chief economist Mike Ferguson has analyzed state revenues and concluded that in an apples-to-apples comparison, Idaho’s surplus is actually bigger than has been reported. At the close of fiscal year 2013 on June 30, the state’s general fund had an ending balance of $165.3 million, $105.3 million higher than expected at the end of the 2013 legislative session. After transfers to reserve accounts and taking into account law changes, Ferguson concludes, “The current DFM General Fund revenue forecast for FY 2014, at 2.1% growth over FY 2013 revenue, appears to be unduly pessimistic. At 3.1% revenue growth the ongoing General Fund surplus estimate would be $74.1 million, and at 4.1% revenue growth the ongoing surplus estimate would be $111.6 million.” You can read his full analysis here.

ONE INSURER WITHDRAWS: The only for-profit insurer scheduled to offer plans on Idaho’s exchange withdrew on Sept. 26; with Altius' exit, Idaho's remaining insurers will offer 61 plans for individuals, 55 small group health plans for small business, 13 individual dental plans and 17 small group dental plans. You can read about that move here.

COUNTY PAYMENTS EXTENDED: A one-year extension of the county payments under the Secure Rural Schools Act, the remainder of the Craig-Wyden law that has been offsetting millions lost to rural counties and school districts since federal timber harvests fell, cleared Congress and headed to the president’s desk – tucked into a bill about helium. “Passage of the Helium Stewardship Act is a victory for the entire state of Idaho,” said Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo; rural schools and counties would get $270 million under the bill. “This fix does not change the need for a long-term solution that provides a consistent mechanism for the federal government to meet its obligation to rural communities accommodating federal lands, and I will continue to work with Senator Risch and all my colleagues to achieve this objective,” Crapo said; you can read his full statement here

Crapo, Risch co-sponsor bipartisan bill to extend rural county payments

Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch are introducing compromise legislation with a bipartisan group of senators to continue funding for the Secure Rural Schools program and the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program for the next five years. Among the other original co-sponsors: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada; Sens. Jeff Bingaman, D-New Mexico, and Lisa Murkowski, R–Alaska, chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources; and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, chairman of that panel's Public Lands Subcommittee. The new legislation comes as payments to timber-dependent rural counties - including many in Idaho - face expiration, with the end of what formerly was known as the Craig-Wyden program to make up for lost timber revenues to those communities.

“For years, our counties have been impacted by losses in timber and tax revenues on federal lands,” Crapo said.  “The federal government has a responsibility to be a good neighbor to these counties – they have already lost substantial funding for schools, roads and other essential services.” Risch said, “In many of our counties, the federal government is the majority landowner.  When these large tracts of land are locked up by changing policies, a greater portion of education and transportation costs are pushed on to private property owners.  As a landowner, the federal government has a responsibility to help shoulder that burden.”

Both senators acknowledged that the legislation is a short-term, rather than long-term solution to the county payments issue; in a joint statement, they also said, “While this funding is a top priority, it must also be paid for by finding bipartisan, responsible offsets without raising taxes.” Thus, the proposed legislation is just a “first step” to more discussions in Congress. You can read their full joint news release here, and click below for an AP story on the bill.

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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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