BOISE – As Idaho’s legislative session stretched toward the record books last week, Eye on Boise was pushed, as they say, from bad to verse. A sample:
An ode to the 114th Day
A product more precious than oil
Eludes them for all of their toil
To fix up the roads
They’d compromise loads
But all that they’re left with is Moyle.
And then the haiku
If that wasn’t bad enough, by the middle of the week, we were into haiku.
Here it is:
What price leadership?
Endless waves of strident words
Hurry up and wait.
All in the numbers
There was an odd moment this past week after a House GOP leadership press conference. Numerous members of the press stood gathered around Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, who was calling for reconvening the Legislature’s joint budget committee and reopening budgets to cut them further, based on the April state revenue numbers.
A few feet away, I stood interviewing Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, who said quietly, “I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
Moyle’s comments followed sharp retorts from Majority Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, to Gov. Butch Otter’s analysis of the April revenues, which the governor had dubbed better than expected. Roberts said, “April’s numbers are not good news, in spite of statements to the contrary about dodging a bullet.”
The numbers were down $31.5 million from the official forecast, but there’d been fears they could be down by as much as $125 million, which has happened in the past – April is by far the state’s biggest revenue month because of income tax payments.
It was Otter’s chief economist, Mike Ferguson, who said the state “dodged a bullet” with the April numbers – a comment Roberts specifically belittled at the press conference.
Denney said gently that there’s a “difference of opinion in our caucus.” He said, “The omnibus bill that we passed gives the governor, I think, enough flexibility to get us through this fiscal year. … As the governor said, the numbers are not as bad as what he anticipated.”
Senate Bill 1227, the omnibus budget bill that both houses agreed on and the governor signed into law last week, allows Otter to dip into various reserve funds to balance the budget if the anticipated $50 million ending balance doesn’t materialize at the end of the current fiscal year.
“I think we’ve already made provisions – I think we’re going to be all right,” Denney said.
This comes as Idaho’s Legislature has set a public school budget for next year that gives the schools less than they got this year, an unprecedented move that shows just how tight the state’s budget is.
There were fears all through the legislative session that it could get worse – much worse. And with April a key sign of that, all eyes were on the numbers.
The preliminary numbers for April show state tax revenues coming in $31.5 million below projections, at $388.7 million, rather than the official projection of $420.2 million. That’s just over 8 percent down, but it’s nothing like the disastrous drop some had feared.
Ferguson explained, “April can yield enormous swings up or down.”
Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said, “All of us are breathing a sigh of relief, because based on preliminary numbers, it’s not as big a downturn as we anticipated.” He said, “It looks like we’re starting to bottom out.”
More legislative limericks from the 17th week of the session
That gun in your car is OK
And don’t mind the cut in your pay
We don’t have much money
But springtime is sunny
And lawmaking’s still under way.
From inside the Capitol Annex
Inside the stuffy Capitol Annex, where this year’s legislative session is being held while the state Capitol is renovated, participants have been treated to loud, weekly demonstrations from a carpenters union across the street that has a dispute with one of the Capitol contractors. Each week, the sign-carrying protesters loudly chant, blow whistles, and occasionally accost passers-by; the noise wafts in the open windows of the annex where lawmakers work.
The annex is humid and hot
Political battles are fought
The carpenters chant
The long-winded rant
The rest of us simply are caught.
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