BOISE – A reshuffling of key committee posts at the Idaho Legislature on Thursday brought 10 new members to the panel that writes the state budget, a new Senate tax chairman, a new House education chair and more.
Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, will take over the Senate tax committee from longtime Chairman Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, who earned a reputation for blocking tax-cut legislation out of concern over school funding. Siddoway will now chair the Senate State Affairs Committee, which tackles hot-button issues ranging from abortion, gun rights and discrimination to liquor and gambling.
“I assume there are a lot of people who are celebrating that I’m not tax chairman anymore,” Siddoway said Thursday.
However, he said, “I have 100 percent confidence in Dan Johnson, who’s now going to chair the tax committee. I know that we have similar concerns.”
Johnson, a fourth-term senator, said, “It’s a big assignment – I’m looking forward to the challenge. We have a lot of work ahead of us.” He noted that Siddoway will be among other experienced members still serving on the panel.
The switch comes a day after Gov. Butch Otter told the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho that he’s not planning to propose any tax-relief legislation this year, and education will continue to be his top focus – but that he’ll consider tax-cut proposals from lawmakers if they make it through the Legislature.
“But we don’t believe, never have, that using tax policy to starve government is the right policy to have,” Otter said. “Tax policy should be … based on what is needed.”
Siddoway said, “I have no wish to grow government, but if we’re going to hire people to run our schools and teach our kids, we’ve got to treat those people properly, and to do that, we’ve got to have the revenues available.”
Idaho is in the third year of its five-year plan to improve education; to continue it, lawmakers will need to cover a $58 million increase in funding for teacher pay next year to continue phasing in a new career ladder.
The panel that Siddoway will now chair previously was chaired by Sen. Curt McKenzie, who left the Senate to make an unsuccessful run for the Idaho Supreme Court.
North Idaho Panhandle lawmakers emerged from Thursday’s organizational session of the Legislature with the same number of committee chairmanships as the year before – Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, and House Business Chairman Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, will keep their chairmanships – but picked up four additional vice-chairmanships, two in the Senate and two in the House.
Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene, will become vice-chair of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, and Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, will be vice-chair of the Senate Transportation Committee.
Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, is the new vice-chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Eric Redman, R-Athol, will be vice-chair of the House Local Government Committee.
“It’ll be a new experience and I appreciate the honor – I’ll do the best I can,” Redman said.
The turnover on the budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee – half the panel will be new next year – included the addition of two second-term North Idaho lawmakers: Souza and Rep. Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay.
Souza said she’s ready for the new assignment, which is among the most demanding roles in the Legislature. “I’ve been told that you learn a lot about how the Legislature works, how the state works,” she said.
Keough, who will continue to serve as JFAC co-chair, said she’s pleased with her new committee. “They’re all smart, intelligent,” she said. “It’ll bring some different perspectives.”
Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, will continue as chair of the Senate Resources Committee, despite a request to legislative leaders from 14 former Idaho Fish and Game commissioners that he be replaced in that position. The former commissioners differ with Bair over his support for auctioning off more hunting tags to the highest bidders.
Rep. Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree, will be the new House education chair, moving up from the vice-chair spot. She succeeds former Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, who didn’t seek re-election and whose former seat was won by his wife, Gayann DeMordaunt.
New Rep. Paul Amador, R-Coeur d’Alene, drew assignments to the education, agriculture and judiciary committees in the House. “I think they’re great,” he said. “I told Speaker (Scott) Bedke a couple days ago, ‘Put me anywhere you need me.’ I’m here to serve the state.”
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