BOISE - Gov. Butch Otter has signed into law SB 1141, the much-revised bill to raise hunting and fishing license and tag fees next year, but only for nonresidents of the state.
The state Fish and Game Department, which receives no general tax funds and operates solely on license and tag fees, sought a much larger increase, but lawmakers shrank it.
Oddly, the bill’s title reads, “FISH AND GAME - FEES - Amends and repeals existing law relating to fish and game to revise license fees; to provide legislative intent relating to certain monitoring; and to provide for otter tags and fees.”
Actually, it’s all good?
Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, had this to say about the late-session clashes between the House, the Senate and the governor, including the House’s unilateral adjournment plan: “It’s the political process. I think we get better results because we occasionally lock horns and wrestle over things. As frustrating as it is, we do get better results.”
By contrast, Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said, “It’s disappointing. But at the same time, I understand House leadership has to play the cards that they deem appropriate. I don’t know that it’s a wise strategy, but maybe it’s the only strategy they have left.”
And here’s the take from Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise: “We of course all know in our heart of hearts that if Democrats were running this, we would’ve been out of here.”
‘It’s just orange juice’
Rep. Carlos Bilbao, R-Emmett, while carrying legislation in the House to remove a requirement to place a specific yellow sticker on every bottle sold by the state liquor dispensary, held up a bottle. “It’s not the real thing, it’s just orange juice,” he noted.
Removing the sticker requirement, he said, “will save the state liquor dispensary $500,000 a year … a simple process that saves a half-million dollars to us taxpayers.”
The bill, first proposed by Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, passed the House unanimously, 63-0, and headed to the governor.
Nonini: ’I don’t hate teachers’
Before its unilateral adjournment Wednesday night, the House voted 49-17 in favor of HB 373, its second version – just introduced that day – of legislation to eliminate an early retirement program for teachers, after the Senate voted against that move earlier. Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, pulled the earlier version, which sought to retroactively eliminate the program, and offered a new one to phase it out.
“Counter to everything you might read in the newspaper, I don’t hate teachers – I admire teachers,” Nonini told the House. “I think it’s an admirable profession.” But he said no other state employees get an early retirement incentive. “In a time of budget constraints … we need to try to keep as much money in the classroom as possible,” Nonini said.
Debating school funding
The Idaho Legislature passed a school budget this past week that, for the first time in state history, gives schools less than they received the year before. The budget is a 7.7 percent cut in state general funds, though the addition of federal economic stimulus money - some of which is for specific programs like special education - pushes it up to a tiny increase in total funds of 0.4 percent.
It includes a cut in the base salary for teachers of 2.63 percent and reducing the state’s minimum teacher salary from the current $31,750 to $30,915. Debate was emotional in both houses as the budget bills passed. Here’s a sampling:
Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, said teachers, including his son and two daughters-in-law, have told him to “just do the best you can for us.” He told the Senate, “I don’t want to spend every dang dime that we have right now and then leave them in the lurch until the next year or the following year when we recover. … This was the very best that we could do, and it was an effort to support teachers as well as we could, because we appreciate them, we value them, we know that we don’t pay them as well as we should but we continue to do our best for them.”
Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, called the budget “an effort to do the right thing,” and said, “The cuts in this budget are smaller than almost every other budget.”
House Education Chairman Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, said Utah has one of the nation’s lowest per-pupil spending on schools, but some of the highest test scores. “I think this is a budget we have to accept in the tough times we have – I think we’ve done our best for education,” Nonini told the House. “Per-pupil spending does not equate to smarter children.”