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Lawmakers Earn ‘E’ For Efficiency

It’s in vogue to describe the 1995 Idaho Legislature as “do nothing.” In vogue, but incorrect. The Legislature provided $40 million in property tax relief, placed a 3-percent annual cap on growth in local-government budgets, got tough on juvenile crime, and relieved counties of responsibility for indigency bills more than $10,000.

Legislators dealt with North Idaho issues, too - although they could have done more.

Many supermajority Republicans won office by promising to rein in government, crack down on young thugs, and give property tax relief. They delivered on those promises, though they are criticized now for increasing school funding only $41.3 million (7 percent) and for not giving enough homeowner relief.

Overall, the ‘95 Legislature earned a B-minus.

It lost points for refusing to extend impact fees to all counties, for not implementing a voter-approved constitutional amendment that allows counties to change their government, and for rejecting a fair formula for sales-tax distribution that would have helped fastgrowing Kootenai and Bonner counties.

Legislators flirted with several bills that threatened Idaho’s public records law, but in the end, passed only one. Information on concealed-weapons permits no longer is public.

Critics of Gov. Phil Batt’s tax relief aren’t seeing the whole picture. Average homeowners won’t gain much from his $40 million cut, but they will benefit from the 3-percent growth cap on government budgets that rely on property taxes. The cost of government exploded four years ago when the Legislature removed a 5-percent cap.

In North Idaho, the Legislature scored points for committing $10.7 million to Bunker Hill superfund cleanup, for allowing home and private-school students to participate in extracurricular activity at public schools, for agreeing to study economic development problems faced by the Kootenai Indian Tribe, and for voting 104-0 to reimburse the Bonner County School District $150,000 for a whooping-cough epidemic.

It may appear that legislators did nothing because they got their business done in a near-record 68 days - with little rancor. And they introduced 101 fewer bills than last year.

But they were productive, efficient, and as House Democratic Minority Leader Jim Stoicheff of Sandpoint says, “gentle.” That’s a more fitting description.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board