[Vision2020] 2008 PreLegislative Update from Rep. Trail

ttrail at moscow.com ttrail at moscow.com
Wed Dec 26 12:30:17 PST 2007


Happy New Year to all District #6 Constituents.  January 7th is the opening
day of the 2008 Idaho Legislative Session.  All legislators will be in new
quarters as reconstruction on the Idaho State Capitol takes place.  We will
be in the Old Ada County Courthouse.  The new facilities have been nicely
done; however, space is tight on the House side  --  so the adage “not even
room for a mouse” may be appropriate.  There are not enough restroom
facilities so there is a rumor that eight heated Porta-Potties will be
outside the Legislative headquarters.  Another rumor is that during the
cold winter weather that the homeless citizens of Boise may take over these
new "digs."

Many experts anticipate that the session will be short because of the tight
quarters, and it is a proven fact that tempers between House and Senate
members steadily rise toward the end of the session.  However, we have many
important issues facing the State and so I would anticipate that we will be
in session until around March 20th.

The economic situation facing the state will, in my opinion, be the
overriding factor in how legislative proposals calling for on-going funding
proceed.  The State is going into 2008 with a healthy surplus; however,
there are many bills to pay such as fighting the forest fires of the
summer.  There are increasing needs in the transportation, health and
welfare, education and other areas.

There indicators that Idaho may be facing a downturn in the economy.  The
problems of the subprime mortgage market plus a general softening in the
economy may be indicators that an economic downturn is close on the horizon.

Idaho tends to follow the general U.S. economic trends by 6-12 months.  A
falling off in the economy will reduce the tax revenue stream coming into
Idaho.  Alan Greenspan recently noted that we stand a 50% chance of moving
into a recession.  Locally Bennett's Lumber Company has laid-off some of
their employees, and major timber companies report that they plan to reduce
by one-third the amount of timber they will cut in 2008.  All of these
economic factors will be major constraints to those who propose major
increase for programs in the 2008 Idaho Legislature.

There will three major issues confronting the 2008 Legislature.  These
include transportation, education, and water.  Here’s a synopsis of these
and other issues that will come up in 2008.

  1.  Water Issues -- This will be a crucial water year for farmers in
Southern Idaho.  There is very little water left behind dams and other
storage facilities.  An above normal snow pack is needed to serve the needs
of irrigators and the needs of south Idaho communities this year.  So far
prospects look bleak with below normal snow pack.  If the winter snows fail
to provide enough moisture there is a great possibility that the Department
of Water Resources will have to shut off irrigation rights for Junior Water
Rights Holders.  This could impact more than 300,000 acres.  The economic
consequences would be devastating to local communities.  The impact would
be felt statewide in the reduction of tax revenues needed to fund statewide
programs.  There will be many other water related issues including
adjudication that will be addressed.

  2.  Transportation -- A recent study that appeared in the National
Conference of State Legislatures Magazine indicated that 27% of Idaho's
bridges are in grave or serious condition.  Evidence is that our entire
transportation infrastructure is falling behind.  Escalating highway
construction costs are one reason for this problem, and even with the
utilization of GARVEE Bonds we are not generating enough funding to
adequately support our transportation infrastructure.

 	In September Governor Otter proposed a 4-5 cent tax increase to help fund
transportation needs.  Since then he has also talked about increasing fees
to help with the funding.  Several legislators will advance proposals to
use a local or regional option tax to fund transportation needs.  All these
proposals will face considerable opposition by conservatives in an election
year.  I will be supporting any reasonable option that will help resolve
the transportation problem.

   3. Education -- All of your local legislators predict that
Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna's proposed I-STARS program
for merit pay for teachers will be one of the most contentious issues of
the session. Mr. Luna's plan is designed to offer teachers pay increases
for raising student achievement, working in hard-to-fill positions, gaining
expertise and qualifications in multiple subject areas and taking on
additional leadership duties.  To a large extent, Mr. Luna's plan assumes
that teacher's are 100% responsible for increases in student academic
performance.  Numerous national studies indicate that teachers, parents,
peer groups, community, and the learning environment are all significant
factors in student achievement.  In this regard, Mr. Luna's plan fails the
scientific research test.

 	There is also the $60 million price tag for the program.  In tough
economic times the program will be a tough economic sale.  I'm also curious
why Mr. Luna launched into a full state coverage proposal when several
years ago a pilot project was proposed.  This proposal would have included
three school districts and the price tag was $3 million  -- certainly a
smaller price tag.  The proposal was to test out the merit pay proposal
over three periods, work out the problems, and then come back to the
Legislature with a firm and tested proposal.  This would have made a great
deal more sense.

 Teachers who would opt into Mr. Luna's plan would give up their tenure or
continuing contract rights.  Teachers can earn an additional $2,400 a year
by foregoing tenure.  Established teachers can't be fired without due
process under the current system.  Teachers who give up their contract
rights will receive only an informal review from their school board.  It
should also be pointed out that the Legislature could cut the funding for
the program at any time.  This would leave teachers who opted into the
program with no tenure protection and no merit pay increase as well. I've
heard some legislators question tenure for higher education institutions as
well and I fear this plan may be the first step on an attack on the tenure
system for Idaho's higher education institutions.

 I believe that the sensible approach is to look at alternative compromises
with all stakeholders involved in the final proposal, and then test it out
on a pilot basis with a smaller price tag to work out the problems involved.

   4. Other issues -- Governor Otter recommended a five percent salary
increase for state employees in September.  I certainly will support this
proposal. I've fought three years to increase the penalty for dog fighting
to the felony level and lost.  With Michael Vick's help this year and the
first successful prosecution of a dog fighting case in Oneida County we
just may pass this legislation in ‘08.  For the past three years I've
advocated state scholarship support for students from low income families.
Last session with the Governor's support we passed the Idaho Opportunity
Scholarship Program.  There are 196 students now enrolled at the U. of
Idaho in the program.  We are trying to get a dedicated scholarship fund of
$40 million to fund the scholarship.  A total of $10 million was put into
the fund last session, and we are trying for another $10 million to be
added this next session.  There are many more issues of importance and we
will catch up with those once the session starts on January 7th.

Please contact me by e mail with your suggestions and
ideas--ttrail at house.idaho.gov or ttrail at moscow.com

Rep. Tom Trail

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