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A Seat in the House

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A Seat in the House

The second-longest session in Idaho history

In my last River Journal article I assumed that the legislature would be adjourned and members would be back home before the next issue of the Journal was published; unfortunately that was not to be. As I write this article we are in the 106th day of the sixtieth legislature; at this time the second longest session in Idaho history and getting close to making it the longest session ever.

Two major issues have kept us here longer than usual; disagreement between the House, Senate and Governor on how to accomplish personnel cost reductions to compensate for decreased revenues and the need to increase funding for maintenance of our state’s road and bridge system.

All three entities were in agreement on the need to reduce state spending for fiscal year 2010 that begins July 1 of this year, including a need to reduce personnel costs by at least 5 percent. The Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee voted for an “across the board” salary reduction of 3 percent accompanied by flexibility for the Governor and his agencies to use whatever means they deemed necessary to accomplish the remaining 2 percent.  The Governor wanted a full 5 percent flexibility in accomplishing the reductions without a mandated salary reduction. There was also a proposal to reduce personnel costs by 3 percent and fund the other 2 percent by using federal stimulus money. The Senate appeared to support the proposal but the House was opposed and the proposal was defeated.

The three entities finally agreed to the full 5 percent cut without use of the stimulus money. In addition the Governor was afforded full flexibility to administer the 5 percent cut and authorization to offset 2 percent of that decrease with budget stabilization (our state savings account) funds in December if the economy stabilizes and our economic outlook improves.

Transportation funding is the remaining issue resulting in the legislature still being in session. Last year the legislature, when confronted with the Governor’s request to raise road maintenance funding, refused to raise revenues significantly but did authorize an audit of the Idaho Transportation Department to determine how efficiently the department was being operated and to identify the actual condition of our state’s highway system.

The audit identified several measures that would increase efficiencies within the Department, several of which the Department has implemented or started to implement. The audit also indicated that we have a 300 million dollar deferred maintenance problem.

Because of this maintenance backlog Governor Otter has continued advocating an increase in the state’s gasoline tax and registration fees for cars and trucks. The Governor’s position is that the state and its taxpayers will save money in the long run because it “costs more to replace a road than to repair it.” ITD states that “without maintenance, a road may need to be reconstructed every 12 to 15 years, with proper maintenance it can last for 40 years. Reconstruction is six times more expensive than maintenance”.

Any tax legislation has to originate in the House and even though many members recognize the need to increase funding for highway maintenance, the House has refused to pass any increase in the gas tax to provide additional maintenance funding for this year.

The Governor, in an attempt to get support for his position, vetoed a number of appropriation bills in an effort to have House members reconsider their position and pass at least some minimum funding that would provide a guaranteed funding mechanism to allow ITD to do long term maintenance planning.

At the time of writing this article no compromise has been reached, but I still have hopes that we will reach a reasonable agreement on how to solve the transportation funding and we can adjourn “Sine Die” without establishing a new record for the legislature being in session!

However, the conflict on transportation should not receive all the blame for this legislative session being the second longest in history; the federal stimulus program had a far greater impact on length of the session than any other issue. Because of the need to wait until we knew all of the ramifications and parameters of the stimulus funds in establishing next year’s budget (FY 2010), we could not finalize our FY 2010 appropriations. The need to wait until we could incorporate the federal stimulus dollars in our appropriations process added about forty days to this legislative session. We could very well have been adjourned in March, even with the major issues of transportation funding and personnel cuts to be decided.

So again, as in the last issue of the River Journal, it is my expectation that my next article will be written after the legislature adjourns and can be devoted to a summary of what the legislature did and did not do this session

Thanks for reading and as always feel free to contact me with issues of concern. My home telephone is 265-0123 and my home mailing address is P.O. Box 112, Dover, Idaho 83825. 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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