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A Seat in the House

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A summary of where we are

February 27, 2002

 

Dear Readers:

I have mentioned the budget briefly in the last two reports; in this one I would like to provide a more comprehensive summary of where we are.

The legislature started this session on the 7th of January and upon our arrival in Boise we were about $60 million short of expected revenues. The December and January receipts indicated we were falling behind another $40 million. This meant that in order to balance the budget the holdbacks for agencies (with the exception of public education) would have to be the 3% announced by the Governor. Public schools were still at the 2.5% level but there was some hope that the “rainy day” fund, the Capitol restoration fund and the Tobacco fund could be used to keep the public schools whole and we would not have to implement the 2.5% holdback.  Unfortunately we couldn’t do this. The continuing decline in revenues has meant that we have had to use almost all of the money in these funds to avoid additional cuts. Given that we have about four and one-half months left, some money is being retained in the “rainy day” fund in the event the situation worsens.

The concern over K-12 public education cut-back continues, but under the current circumstances public education is faring pretty well in comparison to what could have happened.  For instance:

a) There was a motion in the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee to freeze teachers’ salaries. The motion failed and any increases granted to teachers remains in force, unlike other state employees who will not receive, nor even contemplate, raises in salary this year.

b) Funding for special education was salvaged. This is important for some schools in our area who are already experiencing difficulty in meeting federal requirements for this program.

c) Approximately $5 million was moved from designated accounts into discretionary funding to allow local school districts more flexibility in meeting their local needs.

It is difficult to implement holdbacks on all the agencies and on public schools in particular but to put things into perspective: The general fund appropriation in FY 01 was $873 million which was a 6.0% increase over FY 00 and the net increase for FY 02 will be $909 million, which represents about a 4.1% increase over FY 01. The proposal for FY 03 is $920 million which represents a 1.1% increase over FY 02.  All other general fund agencies under the latest proposals have been cut 3% in FY 02 and most of the agencies are being cut another 1%, and some even more. In light of the current economic conditions I think this Legislature is trying its best to make the right decisions for all agencies.  The only other recourse in my mind at this time is to raise taxes and I cannot accept this as being a reasonable alternative in the present economic situation.

There are other issues besides the budget, however, and let me take a few minutes to address some of the current bills that may be of interest:

The windsock bill: This bill being proposed by Representative Campbell, Senator Keough and myself would ban field burning on the Rathdrum prairie when the wind is blowing north.  The bill doesn’t have a number yet but we did get it passed in the House State of Affairs this morning (2/21/02). If passed this bill would alleviate dense smoke in the Sandpoint, Hope, Clark Fork area caused by burning of the grass fields on the Rathdrum prairie. The bill will be sent to the House Environmental Committee for debate and then hopefully passed to the full House. I have hopes we can get it through the House but am not sure about the Senate.

House Bill 459 was passed by the House this week and is in front of the Senate. I debated against this bill which makes it easier for state employees to deny information requested by citizens relating to state government activities. I feel that this is a restriction upon open government; it restricts our ability to be aware of government activities and restricts opportunities for public involvement in government. There is some speculation that the bill may be killed by the Senate.

Senator Shawn Keough and I attempted to pass a retail ratepayer intervention bill this week (SB 1373). This bill would have allowed increased involvement by the various classes of ratepayers in the intervener process before the Idaho Public Utilities Commission in utility rate cases. I and Senator Keough are convinced that ratepayers aren’t getting full opportunity to challenge proposed rate increases and this bill would provide greater involvement. Unfortunately the bill died in Senate State Affairs this week, but Senator Keough and I are going to try again next year. I believe we have support in the House from State Affairs and we will start with this committee.

Senate Joint Resolution 103 is a school facility resolution making its way through the legislative process. This resolution would allow local school districts an option relative to the super majority issue. The District could decide that school bond levies could be passed with a 60% majority if elections were held at the same time as primary and general elections, or they could continue with the 66 and 2/3 majority vote requirement and keep the same election dates. I will be supportive of this resolution if it gets to the House.

Again I encourage and welcome your thoughts and advise on any of the issues that concern you.  My toll free number in Boise is 1-800-626-0471 and my “E”mail is infocntr(at)lso.state.id.us or by fax at (208)334-5397.

Thanks for reading!

Sincerely, George

State Representative, Dist. 1-B

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Rep. George Eskridge Rep. George Eskridge the Republican Representative for District 1 in Idaho’s House, George Eskridge can be reached at 208-265-0123 or write PO Box 112, Dover, ID 83825

Tagged as:

education, levy, budget, field burning, public records

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