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Latest from The Spokesman-Review

Bedke: ‘No clear consensus’ on road funding, ‘hard choices’ on spending

House Speaker Scott Bedke predicts that the upcoming legislative session won’t address a big backlog in maintenance funding for the state’s roads and bridges, in part because he said people in his region don’t seem concerned about the roads. “We don’t have clear consensus on that issue,” Bedke told the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho today.

He also urged caution on state spending, saying, “There’s been modest growth in the economy, there’ll be modest growth in the money available as we set budgets, but there’s no runaways there. There’s not a lot of extra new money.” Bedke suggested that business interests pushing for further tax relief on business personal property consider whether they think the state should give up a different tax break to fund that, like the grocery tax credit. “In this time of allocating scarce resources, I think maybe it’s incumbent upon us to talk about this,” he said. “We can get rid of personal property tax. … We can buy down the income tax rates, if that’s what we want to do. But it comes with hard choices.”

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, warned that Idaho’s not investing for its future, from low state employee pay that prompts costly turnover to underfunding for schools, infrastructure and more. “I think we’re going to hear a lot about what’s important in the primary elections,” he said. “So I’m not very optimistic we’re going to be addressing any of these issues.”

Rusche: Luna Doesn’t Follow Process

Rep. JMRusche (re: Wi-Fi Deal: State downplays error): "I worry about the State's ability to develop and manage contracts. Molina Medicaid, dept of ed longitudinal data system (x2), CCA or prison health, and the laptops contract (cancelled with the defeat of the referendum last fall)—all could have been much improved by a better process. That is why the legislature had OPE investigate contracting. And we asked the department of Administration to revise and strengthening its process. Unfortunately, the superintendent doesn't need to follow those best practices …"

Question: Can you imagine how loudly Gov. Butch Otter and the Idaho Republican Party would be screaming if a Democratic superintendent of schools had pulled the contract stunt that Luna did?

Rusche: NRA MIA On Mental Health

Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, in Huckleberries comments section (re: Obama on gun vote: 'Shameful day'): But in the Legislature and the Governor's budget this year spending for mental health services was decreased over the year before, and millions under pre-recession levels. Health and Welfare has withdrawn MH workers from all except our urban areas due to budget restrictions, county jails and prisons are now the largest provider of mental health services in the State. We stopped funding for behavioral counselors in our schools. I tend to agree that the amendment would not have done much, but in spite of the loud cries from the NRA and pro-gun advocates that better mental health services are needed, we are making no progress. I would like to see the NRA put some effort behind improving mental health services. More below. (StateImpact file photo)

Question: Do you think the NRA should use its considerable grass-roots clout to lobby for more funding for mental health services?

Pauler Loves Sinner, Not Sin Tax

Think you're paying too much for a pack of Marlboros? Don't like the cost of a six-pack of Budweiser? That fifth of Jack Daniels priced just too high? Then Lewiston has a candidate just for you. Daniel Santiago (pictured) is his name. Reports the Idaho Statesman's Dan Popkey: Santiago is the first Republican to challenge state Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, in eight years. He's a self-described under-funded longshot and acolyte of Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul. He'd also repeal Idaho's "sin taxes" - those taxes states impose against vices such as tobacco and alcohol. "Taxes were created for everybody or no one," Santiago said. "Taxes shouldn't be created to punish a certain group, religion or ethnic base. And that's what sin taxes do, they punish a certain group"/Marty Trillhaase, Lewiston Tribune. More here. (Photo from Daniel Santiago for Idaho House Web site)

Question: Is it fair to charge sin taxes?

Bipartisan Support To Ethics Panel

Idaho Democrats unveiled draft legislation setting up a new independent state ethics commission today, and they also announced that they’ve agreed with GOP leaders to set up a working group, with lawmakers from both parties and both houses, to agree on a bipartisan bill within the next couple of weeks. Both House Speaker Lawerence Denney and Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill confirmed the agreement. “I believe we must maintain and grow public trust in government,” declared Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, who said she began working on the bill in the fall. “My intent was to keep it simple, easy to use and low-cost. I am pleased to say that Speaker Denney also recognizes the importance of the idea and will collaborate with us”/Betsy Russell, SR. More here.

Question: Will an independent ethics commission help restore your trust in Idaho government? Or is it too little/too late in wake of recent ethics lapses by Republican lawmakers that were swept under the rug?

Unreasonable Vito Brings Response

Republicans have strayed from reasonable governing, the leader of the Idaho House's Democratic minority says, and the GOP's closed primary will only aggravate the issue. "Reason and concern for the common good are clearly not GOP priorities, Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, wrote in a guest opinion distributed today. "With the new closed primary laws, one can only expect that their priorities will only get more foolhardy. Closing the Republican candidate selection to the 'chosen' will not make the winners more reasoned and reasonable." Alert readers will note that Rusche is latching onto a quote from state Rep. Vito Barbieri (above at United Conservatives of North Idaho organizational meeting), R-Dalton Gardens, reported in a recent Dan Popkey column on fractures within the GOP in North Idaho. Here, in full, is Rusche's guest opinion: “If I wanted a reasonable Republican, I’d vote for a Democrat.” Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens/Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman. More here.

Question: Who's the most reasonable Idaho Republican you know?

Rusche: Per Diem Issue Clear As Mud

The 2012 Legislature will likely address lawmakers' per diem expenses, to determine who should receive a $49 payment, or a larger $122 payment, House Minority Leader John Rusche said today. In a blog posted at the Idaho Democratic Party website, the Lewiston lawmaker said, "To be clear up front, I do get a per diem payment of $122 per day during the legislative session to offset the cost of maintaining a second residence. … "I think that the rules are fairy clear — those from over 50 miles away get a higher per diem but it is not income or added into pension amounts. Those from inside 50 miles get the lower ($49) amount, but it is treated, by IRS rules, as income and is taxed. I think commuting costs should be considered covered by the per diem. "What I thought was clear obviously is not. We will be addressing this during the session I am sure"/Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman. More here.

Question: What should the Idaho Legislature do to fix per diem expenses?

Rusche blasts ISEE, ‘bungling of major initiatives’

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, has penned an op-ed piece panning Idaho's approach to implementing both the new longitudinal data system for schools, ISEE (Idaho System for Educational Excellence), and the earlier troubled implementation of a new Medicaid claims system last summer; Rusche said the ISEE problems remind him of the Medicaid claims system problems.

"Such bungling of major initiatives is likely to continue," Rusche writes. "We rely on a department team that only sees part of the whole, is often inexperienced in system and process change, and is often comprised of personnel who are intermittent due to turnover. We are hesitant to involve stakeholders and end users appropriately, we purchase services from entities who can’t deliver or whom we can’t properly manage, and we are driven by “budget” limitations rather than by quality and results, and set timelines based on externalities (i.e. federal reporting requirements or fiscal calendars) rather than reality." Click here to read his full article.

Dem Chided For Anti-Luna Email

Item: Boise Democratic Rep. Sue Chew chided for email: Rep. Sue Chew sought teachers’ help in recruiting students to overturn the Luna education reform laws/Dan Popkey

More Info: House Minority Leader John Rusche told Rep. Sue Chew on Monday that an email sent from her legislative account to nearly 800 addressees was inappropriate. The May 12 email suggested high school government classes focus on referendums seeking to overturn three education reform laws authored by GOP Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna. “Allowing students to register to vote and keeping them informed of upcoming events, such as the referendum, is a way for the teachers to instill the rhetoric from class within their students’ lives,” said the email.

Question: Did Rep. Sue Chew act properly in using her legislative email to lobby against education "reform" laws pushed by Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna?

Rusche: Otter Veto Stopped Mayhem

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, a pediatrician, is praising GOP Gov. Butch Otter's veto of HB 298, the grandson-of-nullification bill on health care reform, saying, “Gov. Otter prevented legal mayhem - for that he is to be thanked.” He has concerns, however, about the executive order Otter signed the same day he vetoed the bill, echoing many of the bill's provisions but allowing waivers with his personal signoff; click below to read Rusche's full op-ed piece/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise. More here.

Question: Was Otter's veto further evidence re: how reckless the 2012 Legislature was?

Edit: Cigarette Tax Deserves Hearing

In a year dominated by the budget, it’s hard to see why the Legislature would deny Democrats the chance to at least tout their reasons to support an increase in the cigarette tax. Several minority party members in the Statehouse want to increase the cigarette tax by $1.25 to provide more funding for Medicaid and public schools. Minority Leader John Rusche (pictured) said the tobacco tax hike would raise about $50 million to soften the blow of cuts to important programs. As it stands, health groups report Idaho ranks in 42nd for its tax on tobacco products, so it’s reasonable to give backers of an increase an opportunity to make their case/Idaho Press-Tribune Editorial Board. More here.

Question: Did GOP legislators abuse power by denying a hearing on the Dems' cigarette tax proposal?

Rusche Seeks Ethics Hearing On Hart

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, pictured, has filed a formal request for the Speaker of the House to convene an ethics committee to look into two issues regarding Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol: Hart’s invoking of legislative privilege from civil process in his personal tax disputes over income taxes with the IRS and the Idaho State Tax Commission; and Hart’s service on the House Revenue & Taxation Committee while pressing his own case in a state tax appeal that Idaho’s income tax is unconstitutional. “Does he have a conflict, if he’s trying to set aside tax law through his personal suit while at the same time he’s sitting on the committee making tax law for everybody?” Rusche asked. He also questioned whether “by invoking the privilege in the manner he has, is that abusing the privilege of a legislator”/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise. More here.

Question: Are you comfortable that an ethics panel of 4 R’s & 3 D’s will eschew politics in favor of truth as they look into Hart’s tax woes?

Rusche Won’t Ask Hart To Quit Tax Panel

RE: Rep. Hart faces nearly $300K in new IRS liens/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, told IdahoReporter.com that he won’t call on Rep. Phil Hart, R-Hayden Lake, to resign from the House Revenue and Taxation Committee following a revelation by a writer from the Spokesman Review that the IRS had filled more than $300,000 in liens on Hart’s property for failure to pay taxes. Rusche, attending his party’s state convention in Worley, said that though he wouldn’t call for Hart to resign from the committee, on which Rusche also sits, he isn’t entirely comfortable with it.  ”I see significant problems in someone with those kind of problems helping to craft tax policy for the state,” Rusche said.  He said the he feels that constituents in Hart’s district deserve proper representation and he is unsure if Hart can provide that/Dustin Hurst, Idaho Reporter. More here. (Idaho Reporter Photo: John Rusche during 2010 legislative session)

Question: Should someone with Hart’s long-standing problem w/paying federal taxes be allowed to continue to serve on the House Revenue & Taxation Committee?