Week six brings us to what may be the halfway point of the 2013 session although we still confront several complex issues that could extend our time in Boise into mid-April.
Last week I discussed the controversy surrounding the confirmation of Joan Hurlock to the Idaho Fish & Game Commission. After a lengthy debate that divided our colleagues across the aisle, the Senate voted 19-16 to reject her appointment. I want to reiterate that Ms. Hurlock is exceptionally well-qualified to sit on the F&G Commission and the process used in her appointment was fair, thorough and consistent. Despite this, her confirmation was derailed by a vocal minority who employed questionable tactics. With their aye votes, 19 of my colleagues sanctioned these tactics. The precedent that was established this week with respect to process concerns me.
Process was dealt yet another blow in the Senate State Affairs Committee which saw the introduction today of revised legislation designed to limit (some might say subvert) the initiative/referendum process. Furthermore, a bill was introduced this week in the House that would restrict access to voting for any Idahoans living overseas. Democratic legislators recently introduced a slate of five bills designed to expand access to the elections process and yet we continue to confront efforts to silence the voice of The People. The electorate has three routes for participating in democratic governance; public testimony, initiatives/referenda and the ballot. Yet we have seen roadblocks in recent years that erode the lofty ideals of representative government envisioned by our Framers.
Yesterday, Governor Otter released a draft proposal that would eliminate $141 million in tax revenue by repealing the personal property tax on business equipment. Because counties, cities and schools depend on this revenue stream, Governor Otter proposes diverting taxpayer dollars from the general fund to replace a portion of this lost revenue. It remains to be seen which state services currently supported by those general fund dollars will need to be eliminated to pay for the repeal of a tax that primarily benefits a small percentage of Idaho businesses. There are grave concerns that gaps will remain that could force local governments to cut critical services or shift the burden to real property taxpayers. I will continue to keep you up-to-date on this matter as more details emerge but it is critical for cities and counties to aggressively participate in this debate.
Today, the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee (JFAC) showed unanimous support for Governor Otter's budget recommendation and voted to set a maximum spending goal for fiscal year 2014 of 3% over FY13. Although the state's economists forecast a 5.2% jump in revenue, the 3% allocation supports a "maintenance" budget that meets minimum statutory obligations for state spending. Next week, JFAC will set budgets for the state agencies.
BE ACTIVE AND BE HEARD. Having emphasized the importance of process and local input, there is also the responsibility we all share to stay actively engaged, participate in public policy discussions and make your views entirely clear to those who make the laws.