Week Nine and agency budget-setting concluded today in the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee (JFAC) although subsequent meetings may be held at the call of the chair. Setting the budget for fiscal year 2014 and getting the appropriations bills through both chambers is the bellwether for going home. This milestone today could signal the potential for the session concluding before April begins. However, we are still moving a revised health insurance exchange bill through both chambers and the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry continues their years-long effort to repeal the personal property tax on business equipment.
Sometimes, our state's priorities are revealed in quiet ways that don't translate to splashy headlines and this is often most apparent in budgetary decision-making. This week, the Department of Correction's budget was set with a 7.1% increase in general fund dollars over FY2013. Contrast this with the 0.7% increase to the Medicaid division within the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare and the 2.2% increase to K-12 education. To add insult to injury, the automatic federal budget cuts known as sequestration are expected to be particularly painful in our state since federal dollars fund 20% of K-12 education in Idaho (compared with 13% in most states). In my view, if we strategically use taxpayer money to enhance education and improve health and welfare programs, prison populations and funding needs would be reduced organically.
Idaho professes to be the home of small government, but a big-truck bill allows 129,000 pound vehicles to operate on Idaho roads. SB1117 severely limits local control in favor of the Idaho Transportation Department and is entirely too costly. I am joined in my opposition by the Idaho Association of Counties, the Idaho Association of Cities, AAA, the Associated Logging Contractors of Idaho and numerous individual cities. 1117 was supported by the Idaho Farm Bureau and a handful of business concerns and passed the Senate on a vote of 22-13. I'm all for promoting business interests but must we roll over local jurisdictions, public safety and infrastructure needs to do so? Here is a map that details the routes designated for these extra heavy-weight trucks. Buckle up and drive safely.
Based on state and federal law, membership and leadership in university student organizations and clubs must be open to everyone. Senate bill 1078 would limit participation in leadership positions within religious clubs to only those who adhere to specific doctrine. Under this law, religious clubs that restrict leadership would be funded at the same level as secular clubs which are prohibited from restricting leadership. I voted no because this bill it doesn't treat all student organizations equally.
This week, Idaho became the first state to have a 20-week abortion ban overturned in federal court. It remains to be seen if the state will appeal to defend this 2011 law which passed without my support. It also remains to be seen how much this defense will cost Idaho taxpayers but we can anticipate a six-figure sum. We can also anticipate challenges if some legislation proposed in 2013 passes into law. These include bills related to endangered species, firearms, militia, and sheepherding. Legislation of dubious constitutionality should be avoided in the Statehouse since taxpayers support our time in Boise and pick up the tab for these legal challenges.
There are so many ways to be engaged in matters that concern you. Volunteer, write letters to the editor or reach out to your public servants at the local, state and federal level. It takes a village to maintain a village, no matter the size.