BOISE – With all the concerns over state tax revenues coming in behind forecasts this year due to income tax withholding issues, Gov. Brad Little has modified one of his signature proposals: Rather than trying to raise Idaho’s starting teacher pay to $40,000 next year, he’s now proposing to phase that in over two years.
The result, according to the governor’s bill introduced in the Legislature last week, is that the state’s minimum teacher salary would rise to $38,500 next year, then $40,000 the year after. The current minimum is $35,800, though that would rise next year under the teacher career ladder to $37,000.
The change means Little would add just $3.8 million to next year’s budget for the extra salary boost, if his bill passes, rather than $11.2 million. In the second year, the fiscal impact would be an additional $7.7 million.
The Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee is scheduled to set the public school budget, the largest single slice of Idaho’s state budget, on Monday morning.
Why boise has some of the lowest animal control costs in the country…
Idaho lawmakers got some hard numbers last week that illustrate the impact of a strong spaying and neutering program for pets. Jeff Rosenthal, CEO of the Idaho Humane Society in Boise, said when he first arrived at the local nonprofit animal shelter 19 years ago, it was taking in 16,000 animals a year. Now, despite huge population growth in the area since then, “We are handling less than 10,000 animals coming in to our shelter. … The reason for that is an incredibly vigorous spay/neuter program we’ve had here locally.”
As a result, Rosenthal told a House committee last week, “Boise and Ada County have some of the lowest animal control costs in the entire country for comparable population sizes.”
He came to the Capitol to urge support for HB 105, legislation to created a “pet-friendly” specialty license plate, featuring endearing art of a dog and cat, to raise money for spaying and neutering for low-income pet owners in rural Idaho.
“The successes that we’ve had locally are not being experienced as much in other parts of the state,” Rosenthal said.
Darlene Junghans, director of The Cat’s Meow in Emmett, echoed that. “Emmett has a really bad problem,” she said. “Many people have pets and they are just barely able to feed them, let along spay and neuter them.”
Under the legislation, money raised from sales of the special license plate would go to the Idaho Humane Society’s Pet Lovers Fund, which would administer them, using them to reimburse local vets for spaying and neutering of the pets of rural Idahoans who can’t otherwise afford the service.
The bill, long pursued by former Rep. Hy Kloc, D-Boise, was killed twice last year in the House amid confusion, when Kloc was out for cancer treatment. He returned to the House gallery on Friday to watch as this time, House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, presented the bill, and it passed on a 54-11 vote.
There was no debate, and after the strong positive vote, House Speaker Scott Bedke told Kloc, “Congratulations, Rep. Kloc.”
Just two Treasure Valley representatives were among those voting “no” on the bill: Reps. Tom Dayley, R-Boise, and Steven Harris, R-Meridian. The bill still needs Senate passage and the governor’s signature to become law.
House kills RR tax credit bill
The House shot down Rep. Clark Kauffman’s bill to create a new Idaho tax credit for shortline railroad infrastructure investment and maintenance after more than an hour’s debate last week, killing it on a 28-42 vote after Rep. Neil Anderson, R-Blackfoot, said the money likely would go to out-of-state companies.
“There is no guarantee that these companies are going to expand the service that they’re currently providing to maintain their railroads,” Anderson told the House. “They are obviously maintaining the railroads right now, or they wouldn’t remain in business.” Even though the money would be a credit against Idaho income taxes for track maintenance in Idaho, Anderson contended it would simply offset what the out-of-state owners otherwise would have spent on maintenance here, freeing them to spend that money elsewhere on anything they want, such as a corporate jet.
Kauffman disagreed, saying an incentive was needed to keep shortline railroads from shutting down in Idaho and the loads they’d otherwise carry, largely agricultural commodities, from moving to truck transportation. Several backers of the bill, HB 61, spoke of the damage trucks do to roads and the disappointing trend toward shortline railroads in Idaho becoming a thing of the past.
“Every load that we can send across a railroad line saves us a lot of money on fixing our roads,” said Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee. “I understand some of the concerns. … But I’ve heard from businesses in my district how critical these railroads are to their success, to these small mills in rural communities.”
Rep. Muffy Davis, D-Ketchum, said, “I would love to see this happen if we had an assurance and a guarantee that they were going to reinvest in our railroads here in the state.” But, she said, “I am not convinced.”
Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.
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