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Opinion >  Column

Eye on Boise: Panel finishes agency budgets

Liquor license bill stirs furor

BOISE – Legislative budget writers have now set all state agency budgets for next year, finishing their work by setting the Medicaid budget on Friday.

In total, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee has appropriated slightly less than Gov. Butch Otter recommended: $2.7billion, or a 6.8 percent increase from this year. Otter recommended an appropriation of $2.72 billion in state general funds, which would’ve been a 7.4 percent increase from this year. Factors playing into the difference include a much lower figure for expected public school student growth, at 50 classrooms’ worth of kids rather than 150.

If no further action were taken, after the appropriations approved to date, the fiscal year 2013 budget would leave $61.8 million on the table. That’s before any transfers to reserve funds or tax cuts; both are topics of much discussion in the Statehouse these days.

Conventional wisdom holds that once JFAC has finished setting agency budgets, the legislative session will wrap up in two weeks.

House decries evils of drinking

Legislation to let resort-city inns get special, nontransferable liquor licenses with the approval of their local city councils came in for heavy opposition in the Idaho House last week before being killed on a lopsided 43-26 vote.

First, Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, told of a gang of drunken hooligans trying to take over his hometown after a Fourth of July fireworks show two years ago. “All this happened because of drinking,” Andrus said.

He then shared the story of a 9-year-old girl who was hit while crossing the road by a local teacher who was driving drunk. “He hit her, cut the top of her head right off,” Andrus told the House. “I had to conduct the funeral service for that little girl.”

Andrus urged the House not to pass anything that could increase drinking in Lava Hot Springs, which is one of the state’s 10 resort cities, as is Sandpoint. “We don’t need any more infidelity, we don’t need any more broken marriages, broken homes, we don’t need any more divorces, we don’t need any little children crying and sobbing themselves to sleep at night because one or more of their parents have a drinking problem,” he said.

Rep. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, revealed a potential conflict of interest, noting that she’s currently negotiating for a liquor license for a new business, but said she’d vote on the bill, HB 478, and wouldn’t profit from its passage or failure. McGeachin said it’s unfair to give some businesses a break when most, like hers, have to pay high market prices to buy an existing liquor license.

Rep. Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, urged rejection of the bill, saying Idaho has enacted too many special liquor license provisions already, for everything from ski resorts to golf courses, and it should instead reform the system.

Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, who co-sponsored the bill with Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, said the measure would promote economic development and help out small businesses and employers. It would have applied only to inns with at least 15 rooms, a full-service restaurant and convention facilities.

“Liquor by the drink is a logical addition to services for that kind of an inn, and it is consistent with efforts to build our tourism industry,” Henderson told the House. He said he was “disappointed” by some of the debate, which included multiple readings from the Idaho Constitution’s “temperance” provision.

North Idaho representatives voting against the bill included Reps. Phil Hart, R-Athol; Ken DeVries, who was sitting in for Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries; Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton; and Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene.

Some Medicaid cuts restored

Idaho’s Medicaid budget for next year has been set; it shows an 8.7 percent increase in state funding from this year.

That includes reversal of $1.55 million in specific service cuts for the disabled that were made this year, and $36.4 million to cover part of the Medicaid budget that for the past two years was covered by assessments on hospitals, nursing homes and intermediate-care facilities to keep the state from losing even more federal matching funds during its budget crunch.

Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, noted that the service cuts that are being reversed address major concerns raised by those testifying at this year’s big public hearing on state funding. Idaho cut $35 million in services this year.

One eliminates a new rule that forced patients with both developmental disabilities and mental illness to choose which condition to treat. Another restores preventive dental care for the disabled.

“The other one we heard about was the suicide hotline,” Jaquet said, which has received $160,000 in state funding in several other budgets that were approved earlier, to match private funds and restart a state suicide prevention hotline. “So we as a committee have at least partially addressed those issues.”

Read the latest Idaho government news at Betsy Z. Russell’s blog:

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