BOISE – It’s more than a year before the primary election, but Idaho Sen. Jim Risch announced last week that he’ll seek re-election in 2014. “When I ran for this office just over four years ago, I said our country was facing many challenges,” Risch said in a statement. “Those challenges not only remain, they have gotten worse. … Idahoans are opposed to the ever-growing role of the federal government in their lives, and my votes in the Senate have reflected that sentiment.”
Risch, who turns 70 in May, knows the importance of getting into a race early. When he was considering a run for governor in 2006, then-congressman Butch Otter jumped in just after he’d taken the oath of office for his third two-year congressional term, a move that allowed him to tie up GOP contributors and outmaneuver Risch, who decided not to run.
Risch has been noted as one of the most conservative members of the U.S. Senate. The former lieutenant governor who served less than a year as governor after then-Gov. Dirk Kempthorne was appointed U.S. secretary of the interior, Risch also had a long career in the state Senate, where he served as president pro-tem and majority leader. He started his political career as Ada County’s elected prosecuting attorney in 1970, when he was 27.
Limits on garnishment
Otter has allowed a bill to become law without his signature, saying he’s concerned that it’ll reduce collections by the state Tax Commission by as much as $5 million next year. The bill, SB 1047a, limits the Tax Commission when it garnishes a delinquent taxpayer’s pay to taking only up to 25 percent of the taxpayer’s wages. And if the IRS is also going after that same taxpayer’s pay for back taxes, the state would be limited to 10 percent.
“Currently, garnishments for back taxes can go up to 100 percent,” said Rep. Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale. “While there may be some value in the collection process to be able to garnish at 100 percent, there are also many problems that would be created by taking 100 percent of somebody’s paycheck. … I believe that this is a reasonable compromise.”
The governor, in a letter to lawmakers, said he encourages the Legislature “to carefully review the impact of this legislation and make adjustments where they are needed.”
The subject may be familiar to lawmakers because a former House member, four-term Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, revealed that the IRS was garnishing 100 percent of his legislative pay for back taxes, penalties and interest. In that case, however, the federal agency left nothing for the state to grab. Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, proposed limiting the garnishments, saying it should result in more collections in the long run, as people wouldn’t quit their jobs.
Otter gives session high marks
Otter gave this year’s legislative session high marks, saying, “What they produced was impressive and consistent with my priorities and our shared commitment to responsible, accountable and limited government. We also have a path forward on several key issues and a firm foundation for more improvements in 2014 and beyond.”
Otter gathered GOP legislative leaders plus House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, in his office for a news conference after lawmakers completed their 88-day session on Thursday. “I think we all worked very well together,” the governor said. He called the scaled-back personal property tax relief bill for business equipment “one of the outstanding achievements of the Legislature,” saying, “We started out very aggressively. We looked at resources available, so that we did no harm to local governments. And through constant vetting and massage of what our idea was, I think that what we came up with was affordable and it gives us a path forward.”
Otter said that’s a model for an issue the Legislature didn’t take up this year: Medicaid expansion. “When we do do it, I want it to go through the same process that we did with personal property tax,” he said. “I want to have all the eyes on it that we can possibly get.”
He also suggested next year’s Legislature will need to look at transportation funding improvements, an issue he pushed unsuccessfully in 2008 and 2009. “There’s a need there,” the governor said.
Legislative leaders have decided on the interim legislative study committees that will be funded between now and next session; they include four new ones to examine how Idaho can acquire title to and take over management of federal lands within the state; study how to reform the state’s public defender system; look at how to improve and strengthen Idaho’s K-12 public school system; and launch a complete study of the Idaho criminal justice system.
Not approved was a proposed study of reforming Idaho’s alcoholic beverage laws.