[Vision2020] Legislative Update XI, March 23-27, 2009

ttrail at moscow.com ttrail at moscow.com
Fri Mar 27 14:28:10 PDT 2009

Legislative Newsletter XI, March 23-27, 2009

     We are rapidly approaching April and it still looks like we have two 
weeks more to go before we close up shop in Boise.   We are awaiting the 
March tax returns to the State to see if they fall above or below 
projects.   April, of course, is the big month for tax returns.   JFAC is 
setting budgets now with salary reductions of from 3-5% for state 
employees and teachers.   Bob Vick of the Idaho Labor Department reported 
that 51,000 Idahoans are now unemployed in the state. We will be 
utilizing about $33,000,000 from stimulus monies over a three year period 
to provide for extended unemployment benefits.  Rates for employers will 
also go down about 10 percent.  Mr. Vick estimates that the unemployment 
rate may go up as high as 7 percent.   Almost 135,000 Idahoans are now 
qualified for food stamps.  Idaho's average food stamp payment per person 
is $112/month and will rise to $128/month on April 1st.  On May 1st 
Idahoans will no longer have to have less than $2,000 in assets to be 
eligible for food stamps.  Assets include a bank account, a boat, an RV 
and any more than one vehicle per adult per household.  A Governor's 
spokesman said, "They had assets, and now all of a sudden they're finding 
themselves selling a house.  Houses and boats just aren't moving.  
They've still got to eat.  That's the issue we're addressing with this 
temporary change."
     I've heard from a number of constituents that if cuts need to be 
made that those state employees who are at or below the poverty line 
should not be forced to take salary cuts.   Several years ago I conducted 
a study of University of Idaho employees and found that about 20 percent 
of the employees were at or below the poverty line.  I certainly would 
support keeping those at or below the poverty level at the same wage 
level.   This would be the compassionate approach.
     It is interesting to note that we still have over $400,000,000 in 
reserves.  I would prefer to utilize some of those funds now.   As I've 
indicated in other newsletter we should consider major tax reform 
regarding tax exemptions.   The tax exemptions which are not beneficial 
could be eliminated and the income stream could then be directed toward 
the General Fund.  One good piece of news is that about 42 part time 
auditor positions have been restored to the Idaho Tax Commission.   These 
are the auditors who were returning the state an extra $5-$10 million a 
year to the state over their salaries and benefits.
1.  Education  --  The House voted 49-20 to cut $8.1 million from public 
education. The bill would freeze automatic experience based salary 
increases and phase out an early retirement incentive for teachers.  I 
had several concerns because freezing the pay for even one year could 
lower teacher pay over their career as well as reduce their retirement 
benefits.   This may pose a constitutional question.   Again, I think 
that reserve funds could have resolved this problem for a year.
      The House also voted to cut $4.2 million from the state bus 
reimbursements to local school districts.   Only the State Department of 
Education supported the bill.   I had major concerns that by reducing 
busing support that student safety could be compromised.   This was 
brought out by many that opposed the bill.  

  2.  Higher Education  --  JFAC is reducing the budget for Higher 
Education by almost six percent and using some of the stimulus money to 
help ease student fee increases.  JFAC's Higher Ed Budget that spends 
$398 million as compared to last year's $447 million.  

  3.  Fish and Game License Hikes  --  The current bill as amended would 
leave license fees for residents at the same level but raise fees for out 
of state hunters.  The bill is now in the Senate.   Sporting groups 
generally support a 15 percent increase for Fish and Game, but many 
legislators say that the public in general opposes the increase viewing 
it as a tax increase.

    4.  Day Care Regulation --This bill which passed the Senate would 
provide for increased regulations of day care centers.  The concern is to 
promote better safety and care for small children.  The bill is now with 
the House Health and Welfare Committee.

    5.  Palouse Land Trade Proposal --There appears to be much opposition 
concerning a U.S. Forest Service Plan to trade 28,000 acres of managed 
forest for about 39,000 acres of logged over timber near the Montana 
border.  District 6 legislators met several times with concerned citizens 
and also the U.S. Forest representatives and employees of Western Pacific 
Timber Co. who own the land near the Montana border.   I think the 
statement from John Krebs who worked many years as a ranger in the 
affected summarizes it best, "Our clear and urgent concern is that the 
proposed Upper Lochsa Land Exchange will trigger the eventual loss of a 
significant amount of readily accessible public lands for the citizens of 
Latah County and the surrounding area."   I personally agree with Mr. 
Krebs.   The U.S. forest land stretching from McCroesky Park on the West 
to almost Elk River is some of the best hunting and fishing territory in 
the state.   It is used by hikers, bird watchers, and many others for 
recreational purposes.   Taxpayers have already paid for basic 
infrastructure of roads, bridges, etc. and selling it to a land 
development company would only limit access to our citizens.  The 
District 6 legislators have asked the Latah County Commissioners to take 
a stand on this proposal, and we have also requested the U.S. Forest 
Service to solicit further citizen input.
Again, please send me your comments, concerns, and recommendations.  My 
email is ttrail at house.idaho.gov and phone 208-332-1184.

Representative Tom Trail

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