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Eye on Boise: ‘Instant racing’ terminals concern some lawmakers

Idaho legislative leaders say they’re concerned about the slot machine-like “instant racing” terminals that are cropping up around the state, including at the Greyhound Park in Post Falls. The machines were authorized under a 2013 law aimed at allowing pari-mutuel betting on past horse races.

“I think the extent of it maybe is a surprise, how fast it’s growing, and exactly what they’re doing,” said Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg. “The machines have been upgraded a lot since what we saw.”

Hill said as a member of the State Affairs Committee that considered the 2013 legislation, “They actually took a few of us to a bar.” Amid some chuckling, Hill, a teetotaler, said, “I don’t spend a lot of time in bars – it was so dark I could hardly see the machine, but anyway, we looked at the machine – very, very different than what we’re looking at today. … I think that maybe no one knew the extent or the technology that might happen between then and now. They may not have tumblers inside because they’re electronic, but boy, they sure look like slot machines to me now.”

Asked if he thinks Idaho laws need to be adjusted regarding the machines, Hill said, “Possibly so. It seems to me that the constitution is clear enough, but evidently it’s not,” in banning slot machines, “so we may need to have some statutes to try to rein that in, in my opinion.”

House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said, “I think that the Legislature will not be supportive of proliferation of these.”

‘Feminine touch’

Asked her biggest surprise since taking office, new state Superintendent of Schools Sherri Ybarra said, “How many coats of paint it took to cover the yellow walls in my office. They are now a neutral with a beautiful beige accent wall. But that was very surprising to me, how much time it took and how many coats of primer it took to cover bright yellow.”

Ybarra said she didn’t do much remodeling on the office she took over from former Superintendent Tom Luna, but wanted to add a “feminine touch” and make it her own. Other than the new paint, a conference table that had personally belonged to Luna left with him and is being replaced.

Revenues beat forecast

Preliminary figures show December Idaho state tax collections beat forecasts, legislative budget director Cathy Holland-Smith told lawmakers Friday. A new forecast will be out this week, but compared to the last forecast from August, that puts the state’s general fund revenue $9.37 million ahead of the forecast for the fiscal year. “Both November and December have inched upward,” Holland-Smith said.

Only about $7 million in supplemental budget requests are pending, down from the usual $30 million-plus that lawmakers are asked to consider in current-year spending at the start of each legislative session. They include $2 million for universities for security costs in the wake of the guns-on-campus bill lawmakers passed last year and another $2 million to continue funding the troubled Idaho Education Network. Some agencies had significant year-end reversions at the end of the fiscal year, including $9.1 million from Medicaid, due to a change in timing in federal rules.

“So in the end, we’re about $8.3 million ahead,” Holland-Smith said. “This tells us … that we’re in an era of stability. We’re not reacting quickly either to big surpluses or big deficits, which does give us an opportunity to look at some longer-term issues.”

Crapo gets post

Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo has been named chief deputy majority whip in the Senate for its upcoming session, a position similar to one he held in the last Congress, except that this time, his Republican Party is in the majority. Crapo said he welcomes the chance to take the leadership role in the majority, which involves wrangling votes on legislation and serving as a liaison between leadership and rank-and-file members.

Otter hires Goedde

Former longtime Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde of Coeur d’Alene has been hired by Gov. Butch Otter on a $4,000-a-month contract to shepherd fixes for the Idaho Education Network project through this year’s legislative session.

Otter said, “Sen. Goedde has always been a great advocate of the IEN. The only problem that we’ve had with the IEN was the contracting process.” A judge has declared the state’s $60 million contract for the high school broadband network illegal. Otter said of Goedde, “I think he is the right person to help us with that through this legislative session.”

Political writer Betsy Z. Russell’s column also appears on the Eye on Boise blog at www.spokesman.com/ blogs/boise.

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