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Panel To Tackle The Big One: Ed Budget

The moment of truth has come for the 1997 Idaho Legislature.

Today, the Legislature’s budget committee takes up public school funding, always the biggest and toughest spending plan to get approved.

It won’t be easy this year because Gov. Phil Batt prescribed what he called a “bare bones” budget and lawmakers have shown little inclination to add to it. In fact, they might approve even less money than Batt proposed.

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee gets into the public school budget today and follows with debate on the budget for higher education. Between them, the two budgets get more than 60 percent of the $1.4 billion general fund state budget.

Batt’s school aid proposal was just $15.5 million more than this year’s original general tax support package, and $19 million less than the Board of Education requested.

At the end of last week, the GOP majority was talking about whether there would be enough money even to fund that request. Already, the Republicans have voted to cut out about $8 million earmarked for a 2 percent state employee raise.

All the talk in the seventh week in the 1997 session won’t be about money.

On Tuesday, the House State Affairs will hear a lot about the Western Rattlesnake, pushed by a group of schoolchildren as the official state reptile.

It started out as a project by fourth-graders at Summerwind Elementary School in Boise and teacher Gail Hart. State Affairs Chairman Ron Crane, R-Nampa, said he expects about 40 schoolchildren from across the state to come to the Statehouse to support the request.

This afternoon, the House Judiciary Committee will take up legislation allowing counties to charge jail inmates $25 per day, up to $500 total, for the costs of their incarceration.

A bill endorsed by the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, the Farm Bureau and other organizations, making it tougher to get initiatives on the ballot, is expected to generate considerable debate today in the House State Affairs Committee. On Tuesday, the panel will take up legislation authored by Rep. James Stoicheff, D-Sandpoint, attempting to limit Idaho political contributions to people who live in the state.

That panel was scheduled to hear a resolution from Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, criticizing the Bureau of Land Management for adopting new rules. But members suggested it might be nice to hear from the BLM.

Crane said he has invited BLM representatives to meet with the committee on Wednesday but it wasn’t clear whether anyone would show up.

On Thursday, State Affairs will take up legislation setting state laws on deregulation of the telephone industry. A comprise bill was quickly approved last week amid warnings from its authors that even the slightest change might cause the agreement to fall apart.

On Tuesday, the Senate Education Committee will consider confirmation of Nampa contractor Jerry Hess to another term on the state Board of Education.

The Senate State Affairs Committee today will take up a resolution to amend the Idaho Constitution to give the governor power to issue bonds in the event of a major disaster. It requires two-thirds approval from both the Senate and House to win a place on the 1998 general election ballot.

Meanwhile, the Senate Resources and Environment Committee will discuss legislation sponsored by Sen. Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum, to give farmers tax credits for cleaning up river-front property.

The bill would allow farmers and other landowners to take up to $2,000 in tax credit for money they spend to improve the quality of rivers and streams that run through their property.

Farmers would have to get approval from a committee that would ensure no more than $250,000 a year would be granted in tax credits on a matching basis.