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In an editorial in the Lewiston Tribune this morning, opinionator Marty Trillhaase writes that individuals opposed to Superintendent Tom Luna's education reforms already have won the first round. Whether or not referendums against those reforms pass this November, Trillhaase writes that the 2012 Idaho Legislature gave opponents most of what they wanted. “Instead of raiding the teacher salary account to advance LunaTech's aims, lawmakers agreed to steer any additional money they receive each year toward those programs. All of which is fine if the state is in clover. But the guaranteed future flow of state funds into online instruction has been stripped away. When Idaho hits another rough patch, how will lawmakers find money to continue LunaTech? Do they cut something else? Ignore demands from rising Medicaid or prison case loads? Raise taxes? Raid the teacher salary account once again?” More here.
Question: Did Luna “reforms” die quietly while we weren't watching?
How close are they to reaching a budget deal? About this close, Gov. Chris Gregoire said today.
OLYMPIA — Legislative negotiators are closer to a comprehensive agreement on the state's General Fund budget, but some of the hardest decisions remain, Gov. Chris Gregoire said today.
Gregoire said they need to reach agreement by next Tuesday to have any chance of the Legislature working out the details, writing the budget in the proper legal language and passing it by Good Friday. Plans for Rob McKenna, the Republican attorney general running for governor, to announce his own budget proposal on Monday are not helpful, she said.
“I don't need something external…to throw a monkey wrench into it,” she said of budget talks.
The McKenna campaign announced the likely GOP gubernatorial nominee will release a “budget policy paper” Monday afternoon in Olympia.
“The failure of the Legislature to complete its most basic task of passing a budget proves that Olympia is broken and highlights the need for a new direction,” McKenna said in a prepared statement accompanying the announcement of the press conference. “My budget policy paper provides some specific ideas on how a McKenna administration will approach creating a sustainable budget.”
Sustainability has been one of the main watchwords of legislative Republicans as they pushed for changes in the spending plans of majority Democrats. But both sides argue that the other has proposed things that are one-time budget gimmicks and therefore not sustainable. Republicans criticize Democratic plans to delay a payment to the school districts by a day, shifting those costs into the next biennium. Democrats criticize Republican plans to skip a payment to the state's pension systems.
Gregoire has said both ideas are “off the table” as negotiators look for a comprehensive budget solution.
The governor said she hadn't heard of McKenna's plans but contended that a specific spending plan at this stage would not be helpful. “I don't need a sixth budget proposal. Why weren't these ideas brought up to us two months ago or one month ago?”
Budget negotiators are looking at a package of ideas that touches all aspects of the budget along with ideas for reform and added revenue. “There's something in that package for all of them not to like,” she said. Once there's an agreement among leaders, they'll have to put it to their members and see if they have the votes to pass it.
Idaho's political round
Is clearly closed-primary bound.
When hot-button issues
Mean get out the tissues
It's lawmaking in ultrasound.
Betsy Russell/Eye On Boise (More here) (AP photo: Vote tally board on pre-abortion ultrasound issue in Virginia on Feb. 28)
With any luck, the Legislature will go home within a week. But will lawmakers take some positive actions in their remaining days in Boise to promote free markets and limited government? It might be surprising, but there are, in fact, several good pieces of legislation pending before lawmakers. Here’s a short wish list of actions lawmakers should take before adjourning:
- Pass the wind generation moratorium.
- Cut taxes and limit future tax and spending increases.
- Continue urban renewal reform.
- Three bills that have passed the House and are awaiting Senate action would help with health insurance.
- A House-approved bill that would help students use online learning to advance through their school work sooner is on the Senate’s calendar.
- Full column here
Question: Do you support this agenda of Wayne Hoffman and the Idaho Freedom Foundation?
Rep. Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, chairman of the House Revenue & Taxation Committee, won't run for re-election, reports Clark Corbin, reporter for the Idaho Falls Post-Register. Corbin tweeted, “He will not seek re-election. Formal announcement coming today.” Lake, 74, is in his 8th term in the House; he's an agribusinessman and former school board member who holds an accounting degree from Brigham Young University/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise.
Question: Which member of the North Idaho delegation would you like to see retire?
Members of Occupy Boise today filed an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order in U.S. District Court, and U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill scheduled a hearing on it for 3 p.m. Friday. Bryan Walker, attorney for the group, said the group is trying to stop the eviction of the Occupy Boise vigil from state property across from the Capitol. “Our point is it's a violation not only of 1st Amendment rights, but 4th Amendment due process rights,” Walker said/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise. More here.
- Rep. Trail to run for Latah County commissioner
- JFAC sets catastrophic fund budget
- Nonini: Let insurance companies establish, fund own exchange program
- House Education OKs bill to life all charter school caps
- Senate backs study of state taking primacy on wastewater permitting
- Crapo: Bipartisan support growing for big fiscal fix in DC
- Senate defeats landowner hunting tag sales bill on 17-17 vote
- House OKs bill to relieve Pennsylvania company of asbestos-claim liability
Question: Do you care one way or the other re: who wins the standoff between Idaho lawmakers & Occupy Boise?
Dalton Gardens Rep. Vito Barbieri proposed legislation this afternoon to ease Idaho's rules on sales of raw milk, and ran into opposition in the House Agriculture Committee, whose members noted that extensive work was done just last year to revise Idaho's rules for raw milk. “We did compromise a lot,” said Rep. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls. “This kinda takes a lot of that away.” Said Rep. Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, “I think this is opening the door that we tried to close last year.” Rep. Roy Lacey, D-Pocatello, said, “I'm concerned about this, because it pretty much opens it up to everybody. Pretty much anybody can produce raw milk and sell it.” Barbieri responded, “I believe you're correct”/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise. More here. (AP file photo for illustrative purposes)
Question: Would you like to see the rules eased for raw milk production in Idaho?
Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, said she originally thought the anti-Occupy bill, HB 404, sought to abridge 1st Amendment freedoms, but after reading an Attorney General's opinion and studying the law, concluded it didn't. “But the perception is still out there,” King said. “I've gotten emails from all over the state. They believe they are just expressing their rights to freedom of assembly.” She said, “I think the occupiers have pointed out issues that we should be working on,” from jobs to the homeless to drug and alcohol treatment. “As you vote, think about the image of Idaho — are we portraying an image of intolerance?”/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise. More here.
- House debate: “Extraordinary times,” “Desecration,” “Entirely fitting”
- House opens debate on anti-Occupy bill
- Redistricting: Minimizing county splits now an “absolute”
- Luna: Not requesting raises for Dept. of Ed employees
- Luna: “Something has to change”
- Luna: “We're paying teachers differently”
- JFAC co-chair, Luna clash over budget process
Question: Will Idaho appear intolerant if legislators boot Occupy Boise from Capitol area?
With talk of tax cuts — and less talk of a state-run health insurance exchange — Wayne Hoffman (pictured) is liking what he's hearing. Hoffman, the executive director of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, a limited-government lobbying group, used his weekly column to give high marks to the start of the 2012 legislative session. And Hoffman didn't gloat about Gov. Butch Otter's $300 million gaffe on the health exchange, as the governor backed away from his claim that the feds would slash Idaho Medicaid payments if the state failed to create an exchange. Said Hoffman, “Otter acknowledged he misspoke.” I think Hoffman makes a good point on another issue: He suggests legislators move back the two-week candidate filing period — the current deadline is March 9 — and the May 15 primary election. He sees it as a transparency issue, since it would allow voters more time to review voting records/Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman. More here.
Question: Are you happy with what you're hearing at the beginning of the 2012 Idaho Legislature?
Aiming to leverage their limited numbers to win hearings on Democratic priorities, House Minority Leader John Rusche suggested Tuesday that his most-liberal members could vote with the most-conservative Republicans against creating a state-run health insurance exchange. Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter wants to use $20.3 million in federal funding to establish an Idaho exchange, the online marketplace foreseen by the 2010 federal health care overhaul to help uninsured individuals and small businesses compare and buy coverage. But to do it, Otter needs at least 36 votes in the 70-member House. With many of the 57 GOP members, especially arch conservatives, likely to reject using federal money on philosophical grounds, Rusche, D-Lewiston, said his 13-member caucus could play a crucial role/John Miller, AP. More here.
- Lawmakers learn Otter's budget wouldn't restore cuts
- Dems' State of State response: 'Culture of arrogance and entitlement'
- Commerce grants are only cuts restore in 2013 budget'
- Budget tries to reduce reliance on one-time money for ongoing programs
- Occupy Boise leaves modest marks on opening of 2012 Legislature/Dan Popkey
- Opinion: Some Idaho State of the State remarks/Randy Stapilus, Ridenbaugh Press
- Otter backs exchange creation but didn't budget for it in 2013/Dustin Hurst, Idaho Reporter
Question: What do you make of the strategy outlined above of liberal Democrats joining hard line Republicans to block a state-run health insurance exchange?
With the state facing a budget surplus for the first time since the recession hit, Gov. Butch Otter says he wants to see “an Idaho focused not on scarcity or what we lack, but on a more prosperous and hopeful future for all of us.” He said, “It's with that Idaho in mind that I set my top two budget and policy priorities for 2012 and this legislative session. And the reality is, those two priorities are inseparable - jobs and education. Almost everything we do this year will have an impact on those two priorities”/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise. More here.
Other early highlights from State of the State:
- Otter: 'Our new normal'
- Otter calls for 'Hire One Vet' effort
- Otter pays to tribute to troops, those lost
- Otter: 'Sounds promising already'
Question: Do you agree with Gov. Butch Otter that the 2012 legislative focus should be on education & jobs?
Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, pictured, responded to a request by former DUI driver Scott Andrus to abstain from alcohol during 2012 Legislature: “As a Catholic we receive the Body of Christ in two forms, His Body and Blood. Bread and wine served at the last supper symbolize the body and blood of our Savior. Many times during the Legislative session I attend Mass. Therefore for you to ask me to refrain from my religious celebrations is an invasion of my rights to freedom of religion. I am sure you have your personal religious beliefs and I would not invade on your beliefs. After all this is America the land of Freedom. I work hard to represent my constituents and understand the laws of Idaho concerning consumption of Alcoholic beverages.” Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise, puts the final count for those responding to his request at 18 for, one (Lodge) against, and 4 equivocal. More here.
You be a legislator: How would you respond to Andrus' request?
OLYMPIA — Republicans pushed back Thursday against Gov. Chris Gregoire's call for the legalization of same-sex marriage in the upcoming legislative session.
But Gregoire made clear she would stick to her guns on the issue.
One of the main candidates to replace Gregoire said the Legislature shouldn't make the decision on its own. Instead, state Attorney General Rob McKenna said, it should send any proposal it passes to the ballot and give voters the final say.
At panel discussion for the top Democratic and Republican leaders sponsored by the Associated Press Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla argued that a short, 60-day session with a major budget hole is not the place for “social reform” that could roil the legislators: We should leave social issues off the agenda,” Hewitt said.
He also questioned whether one of the proponents of same-sex marriage legislation, Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, will have time to devote to that bill while serving as chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Murray, who is openly gay, is “vested in this personally”, Hewitt said. “I really don't want his attention taken away” from the budget.
House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt of Chehalis questioned how Democrats could devote time to hearings on same-sex marriage legislation when they won't set aside time for hearings on GOP reform proposals: “Apparently we have time to hear certain bills but not other bills.”
Democratic leaders said it's an issue the Legislature should take up this session. “This is the right time to move forward with marriage equality,” Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown of Spokane said.
In a separate session, Gregoire agreed that fixing the budget is “priority one.” But there's time to debate her proposal on same-sex marriage, too, she insisted: “What will history say when we say 'Sorry, but we had a budget to pass so we continued to discriminate.' In tough times, we stand up to the challenge.”
And legislators can find time to do more than just the budget, she added. “I multi-task; they multi-task. It can be discussed thoughtfully and deliberately.”
In a later interview, McKenna said that while same-sex marriage may be an important issue for some legislators and Gregoire, he didn't know if a short session with a deep budget problem is the best time to address it.
“This is an issue for the voters to decide. I hope if they do pass it, they send it to the voters,” McKenna said. Such a requirement might mean the legislative maneuvering and debate over such a contentious issue will take less time, because voters would have the final say, he added.
In the coming weeks, you’re going to be hearing a lot about the state’s budget – the fact that there’s a looming budget surplus and a host of government agencies begging for that money. At the same time, that surplus has ignited some desire to cut taxes. Lawmakers need to remember that when they vote to set a state budget and establish the tax policy that goes with that budget, what they’re really voting on is how much money to take out of the economy. They’re voting on how much money businesses, their employees, Idaho residents, charitable organizations and so on should not have because government supposedly needs it more. Some money is invariably necessary to provide services that fall under the heading of the “proper role of government.” … But it is important to remember that every penny that’s taken out of the private sector to run government programs and services and entitlements is a penny that isn’t available to the private sector for salaries and raises, to hire new employees or to make capital investments/Wayne Hoffman, Idaho Freedom Foundation. More here.
Question: Should surplus money in the Idaho state budget be used to cut taxes or to expand state programs?