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A Seat in the House

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Stimulus not a full answer to budget woes plus other legislation passed

One of the priorities of each legislative session is to estimate revenues for the upcoming fiscal year and then, based on the estimate, appropriate funds for state agencies. This year is more difficult than normal because of the downturn in the economy and uncertainty as to when the economy will recover. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the “Stimulus Act”) passed by Congress at the beginning of the year also created confusion and delay in the budgeting process because of the need for the Governor, agencies and the Joint Finance and Appropriation Committee to understand how the stimulus funds could be applied and what conditions were attached to use of the funds.

The Governor provided his recommendations on the use of Stimulus money to the legislature and the public on March 11. As a part of his recommendation he wants to use $85,097,600 to replenish the Public Education Stabilization Fund used to offset public school cuts that were required this year. The remainder of the funds available would be spread among the various agencies under guidelines of the federal government.

JFAC has the responsibility of developing appropriation recommendations for each agency for consideration of the full legislature. The Committee began developing agency appropriation amounts shortly after receiving the Governor’s recommendation, about three weeks behind schedule.

Even with the stimulus money, JFAC has determined that it will still be necessary to reduce state programs in Fiscal Year 2010 (FY10) by about 13 percent under the current fiscal year (FY09). The public schools general funds appropriation would normally have to be reduced by about 6.5 percent; however the stimulus money will help offset a portion of that reduction.

JFAC has determined that in order to meet this reduction and still minimize the impact on the most necessary state programs that it will be necessary to reduce personnel costs in all state agencies by 5 percent. However, because of the desire to avoid reductions in personnel (layoffs) that would impact the implementation of state programs and at the same time add to the unemployment numbers, the committee adopted priorities for the agencies to follow when implementing the personnel cost reductions. These are: first, an across the board salary reduction of 3 percent; second, utilizing existing salary savings by not filling vacant positions, and third, use furloughs (non-paid days off) where appropriate. The last priority in personnel cost reduction would be through a reduction in staff, i.e. layoffs.

JFAC is expected to end its work on budgets on March 27. Notwithstanding other controversial issues (such as transportation funding and education funding issues!) the legislature would be expected to deal with the JFAC appropriation recommendations within two to three weeks and adjourning on April 10 or 17.

Besides appropriations, stimulus money and cut-backs, the following legislative bills may be of particular interest to the readers:

Under our current system local governments and school districts can hold elections on different dates other than on primary election dates in May and November. Even on primary election days some local government entities hold elections at polling places separate from the primary and general election polling places. This practice is expensive and confusing to the public and reduces voter turnout in some elections. Because of this, many members of the legislature, the Idaho Secretary of State, county officials and others have been attempting for several years to consolidate elections.

House Bill 201 was proposed legislation to consolidate elections into four specific dates in March, May, August and November. General government would hold elections on primary and general election days in May and November; school districts could choose to hold elections in March and April in addition to the May and November dates but would have to pay for the cost of the election. House Bill 201 passed the House on a 52 to 17 vote, but was killed in the Senate State Affairs Committee on a 5 to 4 vote. I believe that even though this legislation failed there will be an effort to adopt similar legislation in the next session.

The change in the administration and a new president has increased concern among some legislative members that there may be a federal government effort to diminish a citizen’s constitutional right under the second amendment to own and bear arms. House Joint Memorial 3 (HJM3) is a House Joint Memorial that “clarifies Idaho Legislative positions on our citizen’s Second Amendment rights. It asks Congress to cease and desist attempts to enact federal legislation impinging on individual rights of every American to keep and bear arms.” HJM three has been passed out of the House State Affairs Committee and will be voted upon by the full House by the end of March or the first week in April.

The passage of the federal stimulus act, along with wolf control and other issues, have raised questions of state sovereignty abuse by the federal government. House Joint 4 (HJM4) is a proposed memorial “to inform the United States Congress the State of Idaho hereby claims sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and hereby serves notice and demand to the federal government, to cease and desist, effective immediately, federal mandates directly in violation of the Tenth Amendment, compulsory federal legislation that directs states to comply under civil or criminal penalties or other sanctions, or requires states to pass legislation or lose federal funding that are beyond the scope of these constitutionally delegated powers, shall be prohibited.”

This memorial has also been passed out of the House State Affairs Committee and will be voted upon by the full House by the end of March or the first week of April.

It is possible that the legislature will be adjourned by the time this article of the Journal is published; if so I will provide a summary of significant legislation adopted by the legislature and approved by the Governor in the next issue of the Journal.

As always, thanks for reading and I welcome your input on issues of importance to you. During the legislative session I can be reached by phone at 1-800-626-0471, by e-mail at [email protected] or regular mail at P.O. Box 83720, Boise, Idaho 83720-0038. George

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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

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