House Speaker Scott Bedke, addressing the Idaho Press Club today, said he believes this year’s legislative session will be successful if lawmakers have “touched three bases” – Keeping their commitments for the third year of the five-year plan to improve the state’s public schools; dealing with the state’s deteriorating roads; and cutting Idaho’s individual and corporate income tax rates. “This is a commonly held view in the House, and particularly in the House leadership team, that Idaho’s income taxes are too high, and we’d like to take some steps in reducing those,” he said.
So far, Bedke said, lawmakers have touched the first two bases. JFAC has set a budget for public schools that fully funds the third, and most expensive, year of the phase-in of the state’s “career ladder” plan to improve teacher pay. And JFAC this morning approved $52 million in emergency road funding to cope with damage from the current harsh winter. Plus, Bedke said additional transportation funding proposals are being mulled, including possible bonding proposals.
Tax cuts, he said, may come into conflict with road funding. “There are some things to talk about,” he said.
Bedke’s Senate counterpart, Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, missed his annual luncheon address to the Idaho Press Club because the Senate debated through the noon hour today on a call for an Article V constitutional convention on a balanced budget amendment, before decisively killing the bill after two hours of debate. Bedke appeared alone; after making opening remarks, he took on-the-record questions from the press. Among his answers:
SCIENCE STANDARDS: Asked how he felt about the House Education Committee’s decision to approve new school science standards only if five sections referring to climate change were deleted – which essentially forced the Senate to take the same position, or risk reverting back to 2001 science standards – Bedke said, “I’m OK with how it turned out.” He said on climate change, “Some will say that the evidence is clear, others will say that the evidence is not clear. And there seems to be controversy. There is zero controversy on the periodic table. … I choose to concentrate on that, to teach these kids how to think for themselves … and to make their own decision.”
LEGISLATOR EMAIL SECRECY: Asked if he'd support Rep. Vito Barbieri’s new proposal today to shield legislators’ emails, texts, correspondence and other communications, plus other legislative documents, from the Idaho Public Records Act, Bedke said, “Probably not.” He said, “I believe that was born out of frustration. These are legislators that don’t have staff and get two or three more public information requests each week, particularly at the start of this year’s session with all of the things that were going on, and these requests did not come from the people in this room. That might be a reaction out of frustration.”
TEACHER EVALUATIONS: Asked about the two competing proposals, to fund additional training for school administrators on teacher evaluations through either the state Board of Education or state Department of Education, Bedke said he’s not convinced more funding is needed. “I still remain unconvinced on the need to remediate administrators on doing a basic component of their job, which is to evaluate their teachers,” he said.
EMERGENCY ROAD FUNDING: Bedke said he supports the concept behind JFAC’s action this morning to set aside $52 million from the current year’s budget for emergency road repairs, though he might have designed it a little differently. “I expect it to pass,” he said. The speaker said, “That was not on anyone’s radar at the beginning of the session – it is now. I think that the state is stepping up responsibly to address that.”