Greetings from Boise where 105 lawmakers, over a third of them freshman, gathered this week for the start of the 2013 legislative session. After the November elections, there was much re-organizing to be done before our work can resume and I was very honored when the Democratic Caucus voted to elect me their new Senate Minority Leader. It is an honor I accept with humility and a deep sense of responsibility. In addition to my new leadership role, I will be serving on the Senate's State Affairs and Resources & Environment Committees.
Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter kicked off the session on Monday with his annual State of the State address. He submitted his budget proposal for fiscal year 2014 in which he recommended a 3.1% increase in General Fund spending based on a projected increase in state revenues of 5.3%. This recommendation was unanimously approved by the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee today and, with this budgetary target established, we now have a roadmap for how we might balance the state's resources with the needs of our citizens.
In just the first week, we are beginning to see three big issues emerge that will likely dominate policy discussions this year. They are the repeal of the personal property tax, education funding in the wake of the rejection of Propositions 1, 2, 3 and the choices Idaho faces in implementing the provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act with respect to a state-based insurance exchange and the expansion of Medicaid.
Idaho is a very business-friendly state and has the second best personal property tax rate in the nation. The governor has placed a priority on eliminating this tax on items used by businesses which would reduce the state's tax receipts by $141 million. Revenue from this tax covers costs related to the Indigent Health Care Program, schools, public defense, community college tuitions, mental health services, and all taxing districts like police, ambulances, fire departments, roads, water systems, and so on. In balancing public safety and the well-being of our local communities against repealing a tax that is administratively challenging but not inherently unfair to the majority of businesses, I will work for a solution that keeps local communities whole.
The people of Idaho sent a strong message in November when Propositions 1, 2, 3 were repealed by an overwhelming majority of voters and every decision made regarding education in 2013 should honor the will of our citizens. We most certainly will be confronting issues pertaining to education funding in the wake of repeal and several years of budget cuts but do not sense a strong interest in revisiting these controversial laws in the coming session. Governor Otter established the Task Force for Improving Education which is already meeting to discuss recommendations for the 2014 legislative session.
With the Supreme Court affirming the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act, Idaho resumed discussions on how to comply with the federal law. On the issue of a health-care exchange, which is a marketplace for the purchase of insurance by individuals and small businesses, the governor supports the establishment of a state-based, non-profit exchange which will control costs given Idaho's lower-than-average insurance rates. Additionally, the governor announced this week that he does not support the expansion of Medicaid. This is despite the strong recommendation for expansion by his working group which examined the issue in great detail and believed this would reduce overall health-care costs.
For the past six years, Idaho Democrats have been committed to improving ethical standards in Idaho government. So we were gratified that the Pro Tem of the Senate and Speaker of the House established mandatory ethics training this week for all legislators which is particularly necessary as the new legislature has a large class of freshmen lawmakers. However, we are still intent on pursuing the establishment of an independent ethics commission which would provide an opportunity for our citizens to file complaints about government officials as is the standard in almost every state in the nation.
Your representatives from District 26 plan to hold Town Hall Meetings the weekend of February 1st and 2nd and more details will be released in subsequent newsletters and through the media. We hope you will attend with questions or concerns of importance to you and our community. I continue to be grateful for the opportunity to represent you in the Idaho State Senate and welcome your input into the decision-making process. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call my office at 208-332-1353.