BOISE - The Idaho Legislature wrapped up a contentious 81-day session Thursday, passing a $35.7 million tax cut for top earners and pushing through last-minute changes in Senate ethics rules that were bitterly opposed by Senate Democrats.
Those rules include making the whole Senate ethics committee process – including the appointment of the committee – confidential until the bipartisan panel finds, by majority vote, that there’s probable cause a violation occurred. Anyone divulging the confidential information would violate Senate rules.
Democrats said that would allow one party to kill the other party’s complaint, without it ever becoming public. Retiring Sen. Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello, complained that in drafting the last-minute rule changes, approved in the session’s final hours, “You all in the majority party made them behind closed doors, and we were not there.”
The tax cut – reducing Idaho’s top individual income tax rate and its corporate tax rate – was approved on a straight party-line vote in the Senate late Thursday, with all Democrats objecting and all Republicans approving. Earlier, the bill had passed the House with eight Republicans joining all House Democrats in dissenting.
Just 17 percent of Idaho taxpayers will benefit from the tax cut; a family of four earning $100,000 annually will see $71 in tax relief, according to state calculations.
Senate Assistant Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Meridian, said the tax cut was one part of a three-pronged deal to end Idaho’s tumultuous session. The other two pieces were refilling the state’s drained rainy-day funds with more than $30 million, while specifying that any additional, unexpected state tax revenue will go into the reserves; and repealing the requirement for future teacher salary cuts to fund the “Students Come First” reforms enacted last year.
The day capped a legislative session that lurched from attempts to evict the Occupy Boise encampment from state property; to a refusal to hold a hearing on a bill to expand Idaho’s Human Rights Act to cover discrimination based on sexual orientation despite a statewide outpouring of support for the measure; to a controversial, and ultimately unsuccessful, bill requiring Idaho women to undergo an ultrasound before they could get an abortion.
“It’s been troubling to see more divisiveness,” said Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint.
At the same time, the state’s recovering economy made for a brighter state budget outlook than Idaho’s seen in recent years. “It was nice to have a little extra money to spend,” said Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene.