[Vision2020] Legislative Update 4 from Rep. Trail Jan 21-25

ttrail at moscow.com ttrail at moscow.com
Sun Jan 27 14:16:07 PST 2008



At the close of the third week of the Idaho Legislature, Members of the
House and Senate are becoming more concerned about the economic downturn in
the U.S. and in Idaho than the cramped quarters that we are working in.

Actually our meeting rooms are twice as large and I have a better office
than I had in the Old Capitol Building.  The Chamber is rather short on
space.  Legislative leadership is heard increasingly expressing concerns
about the Governor's eleven percent increase in the state budget over last
year.  There is increasing evidence that many of the Governor's one time
requests may be measurably reduced or eliminated.  This could well provoke
the late session battles that could drag the session toward the end of
March.  Here are some of the events of the week.

  1.  Transportation  --  About $450 million has been authorized by the
Legislature the two past years as part of the Connecting Idaho's one
billion dollar project.  Over $150 million has been spent and about that
much under contract.  There is a fear from legislators outside Boise that
strain on the Department of Transportation's budget will limit work in the
outlying areas of the state and tend to concentrate the work on the big
projects in the Treasure Valley area.  Governor Otter has stressed the need
to generate more money for road work in the State, but the general feeling
is that proposals to increase the fuel tax or vehicle registration will
meet major opposition this session.

  2.  Grocery Tax  --  Both Democrats and Conservatives seem to be in
agreement that the best plan is to eliminate the grocery tax over a phase
out period.  To do it all at once would represent about a $190 million hit
on the budget so in tough economic times a phase out over six years might
be the best approach.  The Governor's plan of increasing the food tax
credit may not get much traction.  It seems to me that eliminating the tax
at the cash register is the best bet.  Applying for food tax credits
requires a lot of time to apply, process, and make refunds.

  3.  Education  --  We attended 12 hours of public testimony this week
listening to arguments concerning Tom Luna's I Stars Program and the IEA's
I Teach proposal.  Both plans feature merit based pay.  Luna's plan would
cost about $46 million.  The plan offers $2,200 permanent increases for
teachers who end their continuing contracts in favor of signing a one to
three year contract known as Category 4.  The plans also offers up to
$2,200 for all certified staff if the school shows improvement in student
performance based on the ISAT test.  Additional features of the plan
include offering a $2,200 permanent increase for teachers who gain more
expertise in their subject matter areas and a $2,200 annual bonus for staff
who take on leadership roles within the district.

      Interestingly, Mr. Luna failed to involve our Colleges of Education
including Deans and faculty in the process of developing I Stars.  I raised
this point, and Sen. Schroeder and I both pointed out that none of the
available research in the field of merit pay plans was considered.  It is
ironic that our universities which prepare teachers to go out to teach, and
researchers who are knowledgeable about merit pay plans were not consulted.
 This is a very disturbing point.  The following are major concerns about
Mr. Luna's proposal:

      a.  How do we compare merit among teachers of different subjects and
grade levels?

      b.  How can we reward schools for academic improvement when the
current Idaho testing system (ISAT) does not provide growth data?  The data
is not useable by classroom teachers to improve their instructional
practice.  It is simply not appropriate to use a flawed measure or one that
does not provide data for improvement as the instrument for deciding upon
financial rewards for improvements in achievement.  These were concerns
raised by both teachers and some superintendents.

      c.  It is clear that there is no relationship in going to a Category
4 Contract over a continuing contract in terms of increased performance.  A
number of school superintendents admitted to this fact. Linking teacher
compensation with a Category 4 Contract is illogical and based solely on
political reasons.  The point was raised that if a teacher gives up
continuing contract rights to participate in the I Stars program and
funding is cut for the program two years from now, then the teacher has no
guarantee of reclaiming continuing contract rights.

      The two proposals are up for a vote in the Senate Education Committee
this week.  It looks like a close vote.  There are some excellent aspects
of both plans, and if the legislation does not move forward I hope that
some type of Legislative Commission reworks the proposals for future

  4.  Head Start and Parents As Teachers  --  These are two very successful
educational programs.  The Governor cut state funding just after the end of
the last session.  The federal funding continues but an investment of about
$3 million would be a truly wise investment in the future of the students
and families affected.

  5.  Business Personal Property Tax  --  I talked with Alex LeBeau who is
working on a gradual phase out of the personal property tax on businesses.
 This would be an estimated $108 million phased out over a number of years.
 It would be beneficial to over 2,300 businesses in Latah County; however,
my concern is that the lost revenue to Latah County would have to be made
up through an increase in property tax. Mr. LeBeau told me that the bill
will be revenue neutral and won't hurt the counties or cities.  If this is
the case I could support the legislation.

  6.  Aquifer Studies  --  a bill that would give state water officials $20
million to study, monitor and develop plans for future management of 10
aquifers around the state passed the House Resources and Conservation
Committee.  If the bills passes, about $2.3 million would be allocated to
our aquifer in the Moscow area.

  7.  Anti-Discrimination Bill -- this is a bill which would protect gays
and lesbians from discrimination especially in the working place. This is
an attempt to amend Idaho's 40 year old human rights act. Over 20 states
have this already on enacted this legislation.  It is in our state's
interest to protect its citizens against legislation.

That's all for this week.   Please send your comments and recommendations
to ttrail at house.idaho.gov.  My office phone is 332-1184.

Rep. Tom Trail

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