North Idaho gains clout on budget committee
Region’s legislators will hold eight of 20 seats on panel
BOISE – Lawmakers from Lewiston and points north will take up eight of the 20 seats on the Idaho Legislature’s powerful joint budget committee when the 2013 session convenes in January, doubling the representation for the region on the budget-writing panel.
“Five of us are in the northern Panhandle, so to the degree there might be northern issues that we all would agree on, we certainly would have the opportunity for some leverage there,” said state Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, a ninth-term senator who will again serve as the Senate vice chair of the joint committee.
North Idaho’s political clout has varied over the years in the Idaho Legislature, with no North Idaho lawmakers serving in the majority leadership of the House or Senate, either in the past year or the upcoming session; this time, none even ran.
But the budget committee is a place where lawmakers from a region can combine to boost a project from their area or steer funding their way.
Second-term state Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, said he’s pleased with his new assignment to the budget panel, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. Vick said he’s wanted to get on the joint committee since he arrived in the Senate.
“Not everybody likes to do it, because it is a lot of work and a lot of numbers,” he said. “I spent eight years in the appropriations committee in Montana.” Vick said the panel, which writes the state budget, is “the most important committee,” and said his goal there will be to “keep government spending low.”
Also new to the joint committee this year will be Sens. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood; Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow; and Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston; along with new Rep. Thyra Stevenson, R-Lewiston.
They join committee veterans Keough and Reps. George Eskridge, R-Dover, and Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow.
Legislative committee roles and chairmanships were juggled last week at the Legislature’s organizational session after Rep. Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, ousted former House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, for the speaker’s post.
Another House committee that’s expected to be a center of action is the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, which will mull an industry proposal to eliminate the personal property tax on business property. That is the only House committee without a North Idaho member.