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Luna highlights savings at SDE, though budget grows with data system

State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna, in his first presentation - the budget for the State Department of Education - said his department has been finding savings. "In the last three budgets, the State Department of Education has given up more than 20 percent of our general fund budget. … We recognize at the department that every dollar we save at the administrative level is one more dollar that can be put into the classrooms for the benefit of our students."

The department's budget request for 2012 shows an increase - 13 percent in general funds and 3.3 percent in total funds, under the governor's recommendation - but Luna said he's requesting a 2 percent reduction in general funds for the department, as far as operating and personnel funds. "We will absorb these … by continuing to find efficiencies and innovations within the agency," he said. The budget actually grows because a federal grant for a longitudinal data system now is being replaced by state general funds.

Public schools budget hearing opens

As JFAC takes up the biggest single slice of the state budget today - public schools - it's convened jointly with the House and Senate education committees in the Capitol Auditorium. "There's 47 of us - we almost have half the Legislature here," commented JFAC Co-Chair Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, as the meeting began. Today's budget hearing will include presentations from state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna; first off, legislative budget analyst Paul Headlee is giving an overview. No decisions will be made today, but it's a chance for lawmakers to hear the details of the budget proposal and ask questions - in preparation for budget-setting, which follows in February.

In going through the fiscal year 2010 budget request for public schools and the governor's recommendation, Headlee noted that the governor's proposal for next year calls for a 9.44 percent decrease in state discretionary funding per support unit from this year's level. This year marked a 14.4 percent cut in state discretionary funding per support unit from the previous year.

Cigar group wants Idaho to ban ‘blunt wraps’

The Cigar Association of America wants Idaho to outlaw "blunt wraps," a type of roll-your-own cigar wrapper, as drug paraphernalia. Russ Westerberg, lobbyist for the group, told the Idaho Senate Judiciary Committee today that "blunts" traditionally were cigars rolled in a single, continuous tobacco leaf, which had a blunt end as opposed to a tapered end. "In recent times, the term 'blunt' has become associated with marijuana or joints," he told lawmakers.

The wrappers, which are made of tobacco, often flavored, and sold in cigar stores and convenience stores for little more than a dollar apiece, "are becoming popular with users of marijuana and other illegal substances," Westerberg said. "If there is a legitimate use, at a minimum any legitimate use of a blunt wrap would pale in comparison with the illegal one," he declared. "Near as we can tell, there is no legitimate use for a cigar wrap."

Senators on the panel had some questions, but voted unanimously to introduce the bill. Said Sen. Denton Darrington, R-Declo, the committee chairman, "It is so typical of what we've faced within the whole drug culture - they're always coming out with some new technology to be ahead of us."

Westerberg told the senators that if there's any legitimate use for the products, those who legitimately use them can make their case when the bill comes up for a hearing. He said the tobacco in the wrapper, plus the flavoring, are popular with marijuana users because they can help disguise the marijuana aroma. The bill, as introduced, would ban "blunt wraps, including individual tobacco wrappers, also known as wraps or roll your own cigar wraps, that are made wholly or in part from tobacco, including reconstituted tobacco, whether in the form of a leaf, sheet or tube, and that are used to hold any burning material or illegal substance."

Bill to amend rape law introduced, supported

Idaho would amend its rape statute to address a recent Ada County case that was dismissed because a judge said it fell into a legal loophole, under legislation introduced unanimously today in the Senate Judiciary Committee. "As soon as I read about this in the paper, I called," said Senate Judiciary Chairman Denton Darrington, R-Declo, who is sponsoring the bill and worked with the state prosecutors' association to draft it. "I've had several legislators approach me on that," he added.

Current law includes a definition of rape wherein the victim submits because she's been falsely convinced that the perpetrator is her husband. But in the Ada County case, the perpetrator was masquerading as the victim's boyfriend, not husband; the case was dismissed. Darrington said he views the legislation as a technical correction and expects it to pass easily.

MLK Day ceremony draws hundreds to rotunda

Hundreds of people filled the Capitol rotunda today for Idaho's official observation of Martin Luther King Jr./Idaho Human Rights Day, including lots of children. Estella Zamora, president of the Idaho Human Rights Commission, quoted Martin Luther King: "Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God's children." She said, "We hope today that you leave here inspired that one person can make a difference, and that one person can be you … that justice and dignity is a right that can and should be given to all of God's children."

Lieutenant Gov. Brad Little read the official state proclamation, declaring that the holiday is a time to reaffirm "equal treatment and justice for all." He also encouraged those in the crowd to participate in the political process, saying, "It only works if we have broad participation."

Holocaust survivor Rose Beal shared her story, including the horrors she endured as an 11-year-old Jewish girl in Nazi Germany - horrors that she survived, but many in her family didn't. She remembered sailing into New York harbor after her escape. "We were all on deck. We were crying, we were laughing," she recalled. "This great country with all its opportunity never disappointed me."

The state ceremony, sponsored by the Idaho Human Rights Commission and the Idaho Department of Labor, included music by the Common Ground Community Chorus with soloist Holly Ann Kling; a youth mariachi band; a trumpet fanfare and more.

Tea party rally features music, exhortations

More than 200 people gathered on the steps of the state Capitol for a tea party rally on this Martin Luther King/Idaho Human Rights Day holiday today, while a knot of protesters waving a drawing of Martin Luther King Jr. and signs saying "No Tea for Me" protested from across the street. Wayne Hoffman, head of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, exhorted the crowd to push lawmakers to, among other things, do away with Idaho's state employee retirement system.

"Let's get out of these lifetime pensions that are siphoning the taxpayers' dollars," he declared to cheers, adding that school teachers also should be ejected from the system. "It's time to pull the plug on the state teachers' union being a part of the private-public state employees retirement system," Hoffman said.

Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, told the crowd, "I'm so proud of you, because you've given me hope. Prior to the tea parties being organized, the majority was clearly silent." He also urged the group to avoid demonizing its enemies. "Their fruits will identify them. We need our fruits to identify us," Nielsen told the crowd. At the side of the steps, a charcoal portrait of President Barack Obama with swastikas in each of his eyeballs was leaned against the concrete wall on display.

The rally included music; two Nampa High School students sang the national anthem, and David Westmoreland performed an upbeat, country-style rendition of "Take Our Country Back" that had members of a uniformed mariachi band, on their way into the capitol to participate in today's official state MLK/Human Rights Day observance, clapping along.

Scenarios for cuts would hit services for the developmentally disabled

State Medicaid administrator Leslie Clement is laying out a couple of possible scenarios for cutting $25 million from Idaho's Medicaid benefits. The first scenario: Eliminate all Developmental Disability Center services for adults, to save $8.4 million in state funds; and eliminate psycho-social rehabilitative services, to save $1.8 million. In addition, the scenario contemplates covering only urgent dental services, except for pregnant women; and charging co-pays. In total, that'd save $25.2 million in state funds, and cut $84 million in total funds from Medicaid services.

A second possible scenario would increase provider assessments, and rather than eliminate developmental disability center services, reduce them by 10 percent; cover only urgent dental care for adults; and reduce chiropractic, podiatry and vision services; charge co-pays; and trim other services and therapies. That scenario saves only $20.7 million in state funds, however, short of the target.

The changing FMAP rate…

At the height of the increased matching rate that the federal government offered states for Medicaid, Idaho was getting a 79.18 percent federal matching rate for the program, meaning the state only had to fund 20.82 percent of the program's costs. Now, the federal match rate is stepping down, Medicaid administrator Leslie Clement told lawmakers. This month, the matching rate dropped to 76.18 percent, and starting in April, through the end of the year, it will drop to 74.18 percent. The result is an increased funding responsibility for the state of $29.7 million; Gov. Butch Otter has recommended funding that in the current year from the Millenium Fund.

In July, August and September, the federal matching rate is expected to drop to 68.85 percent; then, it rises to 70.23 percent for October through the following June. That means a $139.3 additional cost for the state, which many have referred to as a funding "cliff." The matching rate is called the Federal Matching Assistance Percentages, or FMAP. It's just one of the factors in the Medicaid budget outlook for next year, along with growing caseloads; plans to impose additional taxes, or "assessments," on hospitals and nursing homes to make up some of the shortfall; and the governor's recommendation to cut $25.2 million in Medicaid benefits or services, which results in a corresponding loss of $58.8 million in federal funds, for a total cut to the program of $84 million.

Nearly all of Idaho’s Medicaid spending goes to provider payments

Medicaid, the state-federal program that provides health coverage for the poor and disabled, makes up 80.5 percent of the total Department of Health & Welfare budget, Medicaid administrator Leslie Clement told a joint meeting of JFAC and the House and Senate health and welfare committees today. Within Medicaid, 96.9 percent of the state appropriation goes to payments to providers. Idaho's Medicaid program has seen a 21 percent jump in enrollment from fiscal year 2007 to  today; there are now 223,198 Idahoans on Medicaid. The top five cost drivers for Medicaid in Idaho are hospitals, nursing facilities, developmental disability services, in-home services and prescription drugs.

Armstrong: R.I. no model for Idaho; managed care possible route for savings

Rep. Steven Thayn said Rhode Island was able to save a big chunk on its Medicaid program without dropping eligibility, and asked if Idaho could follow suit. Health & Welfare Director Dick Armstrong responded, "One thing I've learned is if you look at a state, you've looked at one state. … Rhode Island, for example, has fewer people in Medicaid, they have about 176,000 to our 223,000, and they spend about $700 million more than we do. We went down another route years ago." Idaho's "baseline benefits package" has offered much less since about 2005, he said. "So we are actually, with our state plan amendment, we are in a stronger position than they are. Plus, their eligibility was dramatically higher than ours."

Armstrong said, "I didn't see anything in the Rhode Island proposal that would necessarily mean a similar reduction here. We would probably approach it in a slightly different way, because of where we are now."

When Thayn asked what flexibility from the federal government would help Idaho cut costs, Armstrong said, "I would like to see us move away from a fee-for-service system into a managed care environment."

Lawmaker questions on Medicaid: Drug testing, use of volunteers

Lawmakers are now questioning Health & Welfare Director Dick Armstrong. Sen. Bert Brackett asked about results of a resolution lawmakers passed last year asking the department to explore drug-testing of people who receive benefits. Armstrong said the report will be published soon, and it found mixed results. "There are some federal programs that we already do some drug testing in, there are others where we are prohibited," he said. "When you go through the report, it narrows it down. … On some programs, it would cost more to do the testing program than you would have as a reduction in expenses."

Sen. Melinda Smyser asked Armstrong how volunteers could provide services to patients without fear of being sued, and how the department could help on that score. Armstrong responded, "The key here is that these volunteers are not providing therapeutic services. What we are looking for are simply observations. As the department shrinks, we are moving more to be the crisis response entity." The idea, he said, is that a volunteer might stop in to see a disabled patient and who hadn't shown up at church, notice the patient is agitated, and alert providers.

Armstrong said, "The last thing I want to see happen is us to be criminalizing the mentally ill or disabled. I think that would be a tragedy." Idaho must find a way to still provide a "safety net" for those individuals, he said.

Armstrong: Only option is to cut services

How to save money in Idaho's ballooning Medicaid program? State Health & Welfare Director Dick Armstrong said, "We already have one of the most restrictive Medicaid programs in the nation as far as eligibility. Further tightening would not help us much, even if we could." Plus, he said, "Today our reimbursement rates in most areas are dangerously low. If we further erode reimbursement rates, providers will stop seeing Medicaid patients." The only remaining option, he said, is to cut services, and focus only on "services that literally are a matter of life and death."

Disabled people may have to turn to family, friends, churches or others for services that now come from the state, Armstrong said, citing Gov. Butch Otter's comments in his State of the State address. Armstrong said he'll "work to preserve the most critical and core services." But he said the state must turn back to volunteers, as it did decades ago.

Armstrong details H&W struggles

Idaho led the nation in food stamp growth in 2010, state Health & Welfare Director Dick Armstrong told lawmakers this morning. That's partly because in 2008, Idaho was 48th in the nation for food-stamp participation. At that time, only half the Idahoans who qualified for the help actually applied for it. "This tells us there was a large number of people who qualified for assistance, but were getting by and did not need the help," Armstrong said. "That's changed with the latest economic downturn. Many people could no longer get by on their own."

Food stamp benefits are paid for 100 percent by the federal government, he said, with Idaho only administering the program. That's not true of Medicaid, in which the federal government pays about three-quarters of the cost, and the state pays the rest.

"From a state budget perspective, Medicaid is the dominant story for our agency," Armstrong said. "Idaho Medicaid has some of the most restrictive eligibility criteria in the nation." Yet, participation has soared, as more and more Idahoans are living at or below the poverty line. "Despite the unbelievable demand for our services, we have held the line everywhere," Armstrong said. His department has closed nine of its 29 field offices and today has 10 percent fewer workers than it did in 2008. Employees have been furloughed, and more than 300 positions are being held vacant for lack of funds. Now, he said, top employees are leaving, citing pay, workload and stress as the reasons.

Really, really big joint committee convenes

It looks like a really, really big committee that's holding a joint hearing today on Health & Welfare and Medicaid budgets. That's because the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee - which itself has 20 members - is sitting jointly with the House and Senate health and welfare committees, for a total of 45 lawmakers. First up for the joint hearing is an overview from legislative budget analyst Amy Johnson on where Medicaid funding stands.

Today is MLK/Idaho Human Rights holiday

Today is Martin Luther King Jr./Idaho Human Rights Day, an official state holiday, though the Legislature - which doesn't take holidays - is in session. Legislative doings today include a joint hearing between JFAC and the House and Senate health and welfare committees in the Capitol Auditorium on Health & Welfare and Medicaid budgets, which runs from 8 to 11 a.m. There are also festivities for the holiday, including the official state observance, at noon in the Capitol Rotunda, at which Holocaust survivor Rose Beal will give the keynote address, Fidel Nshombo of the Republic of Congo will read original poetry, and Lt. Gov. Brad Little will formally proclaim the holiday. There also will be music, displays and a color guard.

Also planned for the holiday are service projects across the state to mark a national Day of Service; a "Feed the Dream" event at the Idaho Foodbank at which 240 volunteers will work in shifts all day to build 5,000 backpacks full of food for hungry Idaho children; and Boise State University events, including a march and rally today, and a week of activities including a performance by the Harlem Gospel Choir on Thursday and a free keynote address next Monday from Rev. Samuel "Billy" Kyles, the longtime pastor of the Monumental Baptist Church in Memphis, Tenn.

Also, as it did last year, the Idaho Freedom Foundation has chosen the Martin Luther King holiday to sponsor a tea party rally at the Capitol. It's scheduled for 11 a.m. on the steps, and will include costumed historical figures. The group also plans afternoon workshops inside the capitol on such topics as "State Sovereignty & Nullification" and "Tea Party Youth Outreach."

The week that was…

On tonight's "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public TV, I join host Thanh Tan, Marc Johnson, Dan Popkey and Jim Weatherby to discuss the events of the week, including Gov. Butch Otter's State of the State message and state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna's education reform plan; Thanh also interviews JFAC co-chairs Dean Cameron and Maxine Bell. The show airs tonight at 8 p.m., then re-airs Sunday at 10:30 a.m. Mountain time, 9:30 a.m. Pacific. There's also a "Web Extra" of our continued discussion after the show, which focused on Luna's education reform plan; you can see that at www.idahoptv.org.

Click here
to see a slide show of the week in pictures, as the first week of Idaho's 2011 legislative session comes to a close. Let your cursor hover over the bottom part of the frame as the pictures show, to see the captions.

Dems slam Luna reform plan

Idaho Democrats have issued a statement slamming state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna's sweeping school-reform plan. Among their comments: "If after four years of his leadership, our public school system is 'broken,' why should any parent, student or voter put the slightest faith in any idea proffered by the architect of such failure?" Click below to read their full statement.

Energy rebate extension in the works

For the past five years, developers of geothermal, solar or wind power generation facilities have gotten a rebate from the state for the sales tax they pay on the major, permanent equipment that goes into their plants, but the tax credit will expire in June. Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, wants to extend it. "If we don't have the rebate, the sales tax rebate on wind generation, it will preclude development of wind energy in Idaho, because other states are more competitive," Eskridge said. A Boise State University study is in the works to look at the economic benefit of the rebate in the five years it's been in effect; lawmakers enacted it with a five-year sunset, which is why it expires this year.

"That's going to be probably a little controversial, because we're starting to develop a little bit of opposition to wind generation," Eskridge said. "It seems every time we get a legitimate power resource on the table, somebody finds a reason to object." Eskridge, who co-chairs an interim energy committee with Sen. Curtis McKenzie, R-Nampa, said the panel decided in August to wait for the BSU study before endorsing the extension. He's anticipating positive results, and hopes to co-sponsor an extension bill with McKenzie and several other lawmakers.

Eskridge said in the five years it's been effect, the rebate has meant about $3 million to $4 million in lost tax revenue to the state, but has generated much more than that in property taxes and other economic activity in the state. "That's what this study will show, those kinds of results," he said.

Money-saving move: Interns now unpaid

The governor's office and his Division of Financial Management have eliminated pay for their interns, as part of money-saving moves, DFM administrator Wayne Hammon told JFAC this morning, as he presented the two agencies' budget pitches to lawmakers. "In 2012, the budget is flat compared to 2011," he said. He said the lack of replacement capital is becoming noticeable; "we actually don't have enough telephones to put one on every desk in the agency. … So we can get by another year, but that is an area of risk. Our infrastructure is starting to show the signs of stress."

On estimating revenues…

Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, quoted John Maynard Keynes, saying, "It's better to be roughly right than precisely wrong," as she moved for JFAC to accept the revenue committee's report. Added Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, "The only thing that we're certain is that we're all wrong."

JFAC votes 16-3 to accept revenue panel’s report

Rep. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, who serves on both the JFAC and the revenue projection committee and opposed its recommendation, said, "It gives me a great deal of concern that the number we picked has absolutely no relation to the projections of the experts. I guess to some extent the process felt a little bit random to me, and it seemed perhaps a little bit unbelievable, too, that it ended up matching what I though was some very unusual math on the part of the governor." Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, asked, "Can you … help me understand why we thought that this year would be better than next year?"

The projection calls for 4.2 percent revenue growth this year, and just 3 percent next year, though state economists forecast. 6.9 percent next year. Goedde responded, "The numbers that are closest to you I think are the most accurate. You can feel more comfortable about what's happening in the next six months than the next 18 months. … We want to budget on the conservative side so that we don't have holdbacks. I think that sentiment was reflected in the … revenue projections." Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, cautioned that the revenue projection committee is supposed to project revenues, not recommend budgeting amounts. Goedde said that's what he meant. "I believe it was the feeling of the committee that that was a more accurate projection," he said of the 3 percent.

The committee then voted 16-3 to accept the report.

JFAC hears from revenue panel

Economic Outlook & Revenue Assessment committee co-chairs Rep. Cliff Bayer and Sen. John Goedde are presenting the joint panel's recommendation to JFAC this morning. Bayer noted that the recommendation includes "that we maintain some flexibility in looking at these numbers as they come in." Goedde said, "January's a big month for this state in revenues."

The panel's recommendation for revenues for this year and next year matches the governor's budget recommendation. "There was only one motion that was considered and voted on by the committee, and it had bipartisan support," Bayer said.

ITD files megaloads response

ITD has filed its own response to the appeal from opponents of its decision to grant permits for ConocoPhillips to transport four megaloads of oil refinery equipment across U.S. Highway 12 in north-central Idaho; you can read it here. The ITD response says, "The hearing officer applied the correct legal standards and properly applied the burden of proof." ITD also wrote that the fact that Highway 12 is a state and federally designated scenic byway is "irrelevant" to its application of its administrative rules regarding over-legal loads, and that "Nowhere in the rules is the department allowed, much less required, to take into consideration these designations." The primary purpose of the route is commerce, ITD writes. ITD spokesman Adam Rush said, "The director will review the appeal from Advocates for the West and responses from ConocoPhillips and ITD as soon as possible. There is no timeframe for his decision."

Lake motion passes, 12-3

The revenue committee has voted 12-3 in favor of Lake's motion, to adopt the governor's recommendation. Before the vote, Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, proposed a substitute motion of $2,359.2 million for 2011 and $2,521.5 million for 2012, but her motion died for lack of a second. The three "no" votes on Lake's motion came from LeFavour, Rep. Janice McGeachin, and Rep. Grant Burgoyne.

Asked by McGeachin how a revenue-setting action today, followed by a revision later would affect the JFAC process, JFAC Vice-Chair Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, said, "We don't start setting budgets until about the middle of February, and at that time we will have January's numbers, and at that time will be able to take corrective action if we should need to."

Burgoyne, D-Boise, questioned why the committee would adopt figures showing stronger growth in fiscal year 2011 than in 2012, saying the economy should be improving, not slowing. "I do think that's a little illogical or inconsistent," he said.

Incidentally, at the start of the meeting, state economist Derek Santos was scheduled to discuss the latest revenue figures and DFM forecasts. But when he started talking about the DFM forecast of 6.9 percent revenue growth for fy 2012, Goedde cut him off, saying the panel only wanted to hear about the governor's recomendation, not the DFM forecast.

Lake amends motion, but numbers remain the same

Rep. Dennis Lake has just amended his motion, not changing the amount, but "to include the fact that we need to come back if the chairs see something that would cause my number to be overstated, understated, and that we would meet again and revisit the amount." His second agreed to the change. Sen. Bob Geddes said, "I believe that there is great value in this committee's recommendation, even if we are not correct. Even a directional opinion is helpful to the joint committee and to leadership" to reflect what the revenue committee heard in its day and a half of hearings, he said.

Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, said, "My preference would be just simply to wait until January numbers, because we could decide then if our very sobering December number was an anomaly or not, and we don't have to in any way commit ourselves to what in my mind is a really, really low number." Geddes said, "I agree, this is … a low number. But what would be more dangerous than supporting a low number is supporting a number that doesn't really come to pass."

Rep. Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, said it's always good to have more information. "I support the motion, and we'll deal with it as the time goes on," he said.

Concerns about revenue, impact

Rep. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, said, "I really would want to caution us against setting a number that's a lil too dire, because those really are substantial to the lives of a lot of people, when we start setting the Medicaid budget. I'm concerned that the 3 percent (for 2012) is really just unrealistically too low." Rep. Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, said, "I think I will probably support the motion, but I think it would be prudent on this committee's behalf that we … reserve the right to maybe address this issue as we see final numbers for January, probably around the 10th of February … just to have one (more) month's worth of data." The panel's co-chairman. Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d'Alene, called that a good idea. "We don't know what's going to hap in the month of January, and it's a huge tax collection month," he said. The revenue committee then went at ease, at the request of Sen. Bob Geddes. Members are now conferring, some gathered in clumps, others remaining in their seats.

First motion dies for lack of second

The first motion, from Rep. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, was for $2,305 billion for for fy 2011, and $2,376 million for fy 2012, but her motion died for lack of a second. Then, House Tax Chairman Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, moved the governor's recommendation, $2,359.2 for 2011 and $2,430 for 2012.

Revenue panel convenes

The Economic Outlook and Revenue Assessment Committee has started its meeting. The task: Set a revenue forecast on which the Legislature can base its budgeting for the coming year. Each member of the joint committee has turned in his or her forecast, as is customary. For the current year, fiscal year 2011, the committee median estimate is for 3.3 percent growth, as compared to the governor's forecast of 4.2 percent. For the coming year, fiscal year 2012, the committee's median estimate is for 3.5 percent growth. State economists are forecasting 6.9 percent tax revenue growth in fiscal 2012, but Gov. Butch Otter has set his budget recommendation based on just 3 percent to be prudent.

That means if the committee were to adopt its median estimate, it'd be at $2,340.1 million for 2011, and $2,422.5 million for 2012 - both of which are below the governor's recommendations of $2,359.2 million for 2011 and $2,430 million for 2012. That's a difference of $19.1 million for the current year, 2011, and $7.5 million for 2012. Since 1999, the joint revenue committee's estimate has matched the governor's Division of Financial Management revenue forecast every year but the last two. In both of the last two years, the committee has set its projection lower than the governor's.

Groups: Guv’s approach overlooks consequences

United Vision for Idaho, a coalition of Idaho nonprofit groups, convened a dozen of them, ranging from the Idaho Community Action Network to the Interfaith Alliance to Church Women United, to watch Gov. Butch Otter's State of the State message on Monday. The groups then released a joint response taking issue with the governor's approach. "We found that content of the speech largely ignored the real history of how this country was built, and ignored the role that people, not industry have played in the making of some of our greatest achievements," the groups wrote in their response. "Governor Otter believes that our reliance on government constitutes failure and that we must free ourselves from the 'soul crushing tyranny of entitlement.' … But if there is any real failing, it is in failing to recognize the consequences this would have on our children, our aging, our veterans, our disabled, hard working, struggling families and entire communities throughout our state." You can read the groups' full response here.

Carlson is new Idaho Judicial Council head

The Idaho Judicial Council's executive director, Bob Hamlin, has retired after 29 years. The new director is Jim Carlson, who is now making the council's annual presentation to JFAC. A longtime attorney and former deputy Idaho attorney general, Carlson is the son of former state Sen. Herb Carlson, R-Eagle.

The council had no judicial vacancies to fill in 2010, and Carlson reported that the number of complaints it received was down, to 76, from 101 in 2009 and 121 in 2008. The council responded to more than 168 requests from judges for ethics opinions in 2010. "These judges in Idaho, they are proactive in trying to do the right thing," Carlson said.