Happy Easter! The Senate will not be in session Friday and won't reconvene until Monday afternoon to allow for travel home over the weekend. It remains to be seen how next week will unfold, especially with the break in floor time, but there appears to be a commitment to address transportation funding, at least to some degree, before we adjourn for the year. That goal was complicated by actions taken this week in the Senate.
I previously mentioned three bills introduced in the House last week that all proposed siphoning revenue from the General Fund to provide minimal funding for Idaho's $262 million annual maintenance shortfall. HB 310 awaits Senate action. HB 312, to raise car and truck registration fees, will be sent to the Senate floor for amendments which means anything could happen given all 35 Senators can introduce amending language. HB 311, sponsored by House leaders Scott Bedke and Mike Moyle, was the most controversial of the three and died for lack of support in the Senate. Here is a copy of the press release we sent on 311 Wednesday:
For Immediate Release - April 1, 2015
Senate Democrats Oppose Tax Hike
BOISE - Yesterday, Idaho Senate Democratic lawmakers stood up for hardworking Idahoans and their families and opposed HB 311, a scheme to lower taxes on the wealthy and shift the burden to low and middle-income taxpayers. With Idaho Democrats united in opposition, the measure could not win passage in the Senate and was sent back to committee, effectively killing the bill.
"After failing to consider our efforts to incrementally raise the minimum wage for 30,000 Idahoans, it is unthinkable that the House leadership would propose an eleventh-hour tax cut to benefit only those income earners in the top five percent," said Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett (D-Ketchum).
Added Assistant Minority Leader Cherie Buckner-Webb (D-Boise), "Having just made the first step on the long road to restoring our investment in education, Democrats cannot support a proposal that would drain as much at $70 million annually from the General Fund on which education support is so reliant. We must sustain a lasting commitment to teacher pay as demonstrated by the overwhelming passage of the five-year career ladder plan."
Given that HB 311 wouldn't address even half of Idaho's annual deferred maintenance shortfall of $262 million, presenting this as a transportation bill reveals a lack of vision for Idaho's long-term transportation needs. "We have worked hard with our colleagues across the aisle to breathe life into more responsible proposals," said Senator Grant Burgoyne (D-Boise), Minority Caucus Chair. "Only if we all work together can we craft legislation that is strategic in addressing our infrastructure needs, from emergency maintenance today to the mass transit needed to move Idaho's citizens and economy into the future."
"On the first day of this legislative session, we held a press conference and pledged to support policies that put and kept money in the pockets of everyday Idahoans," Stennett said. "By defeating this legislation and continuing our work on a more equitable transportation plan, we are keeping our promise."
In other news:
-I've been a very vocal opponent of Idaho taking over public lands from the federal government and my reasons are clear: it's unconstitutional, Idaho can't afford to properly manage the lands, and the end result will be the loss of public access to private ownership. Therefore I could not support HB 265a establishing The Interstate Compact on the Transfer of Public Lands with the goal of Idaho becoming a member state. This compact would be vested with a binding authority to take any type of action, even over the objections of the member states. The compact's commission, its administrator, or any other member state, could obligate Idaho to pay fees or levy assessments which are not defined or capped and could run in the tens of millions. Withdrawal from the compact requires a rigorous, lengthy process during which Idaho would remain financially obligated. I heard from a lot of you who opposed the idea of a commission or another state having the power to force Idaho taxpayers to pay for a public land grab. Fortunately the majority of the Senate Resources and Environment Committee agreed with us and the measure failed.
-I also heard from scores of residents in District 26 who vehemently opposed the passage of HB 301 and on this we were less successful as it passed the Senate 30-5. A lot of legislators were bothered that it didn't eliminate the preferential treatment afforded elected officials who are already able to carry concealed weapons without a permit but the majority agreed to address that at a later date. I remain concerned that the bill allowing the carrying of concealed weapons without a permit outside of city limits didn't fully define those boundaries or recognize that 99% of Idaho falls outside of incorporated cities. There may be a perception that this would only impact rural Idaho but the reality is unincorporated areas include shopping malls, stadiums and other densely populated areas. But the area of greatest concern is the change in statute to allow permitless carry by felons whose judgments are withheld (aka set aside). The existing law prevented this class of criminal from being issued a concealed carry permit because, despite their withheld judgment, these are people who've committed violent crimes and have been found, or pleaded, guilty. Sheriff Vaughn Killeen covered this well in an editorial opposing the bill - http://bit.ly/1Glp9dT
-Governor Otter held public ceremonies Thursday to sign the Career Ladder bill and the bill designating the Idaho Giant Salamander as Idaho's official state amphibian.
-S1154a, the bill that would expunge the records of human trafficking victims coerced into criminal activities, unanimously passed both chambers and heads to the Governor for his signature.
-Seven appropriation bills, representing the entire public school budget, unanimously passed the Senate and head to the House.
-The House voted 50-19 to pass the $2 million Republican Primary bill which goes to the Governor. Taxpayers should not pay for the activities of any political party.
-After passing the House 44-25, the Senate refused to grant a hearing on HJM 4, a non-binding memorial which called on Congress to impeach any judge who favorably ruled on same-sex marriage.