2014 Legislative Session Overview

January 6, 2014

January 6th brought the opening of the 2014 legislative session. On that day, Governor Otter gave his State of the State speech. The House and Senate met jointly on the House floor to listen to the address. Governor’s State of the State speeches include a report on the state of Idaho, what the Governor hopes to accomplish, and his proposed 2015 budget was released to the legislature for consideration. Here are some highlights and comments about the speech.

Governor Otter’s speech was heavy on education, as it should be. During the devastating recession, education was the last place to be affected by spending reductions, and now that the economy showing signs of improving, restoration of education funding must take place. The Governor proposes a $37.5 million or a 2.8% increase in K-12 spending, although the legislature will possibly increase that amount. Likely there will be an increase to both teacher salaries and district operations, although the Governor did not recommend teacher salary increases. School districts need to have the operations appropriation increased to begin restoring past operations cuts. With the increased spending Governor Otter wanted increased accountability and transparency. Both are essential.

The Governor also left the door open to tax reductions, perhaps in property taxes or a decrease in the income tax rates. There is to date only discussions of possible tax reductions. No plan has been developed. Most legislators seem to feel we need to make restorations of budget cuts prior to tax relief, although perhaps both can be accomplished.

Prior to the great recession, there was about $400 million in the various state reserve accounts. The savings, accumulated over many years, were completely used to mitigate lack of state revenues and keep education and agencies functioning. We have begun to replenish these reserves and the Governor proposed building those reserves back as quickly as possible to hedge against the next recession, which will assuredly come some day. The tricky work of the legislature will be to fund education and state government and still put as much into savings as possible.

Idaho Core Standards were mentioned and supported by Governor Otter. The legislature will have a vigorous discussion on the Idaho Core Standards, and in the end, they will be supported and continue moving forward.

Critical to Idaho, especially to Eastern Idaho, is the health of the Aquifer and river system. Governor Otter has proposed significant additional spending on aquifer recharge site development, increasing our state water dam storages, and direct aquifer recharge. As we face a dry winter, water storage, whether above or below ground becomes extremely important. The Governor and Legislature must look to the future and take the necessary steps, including spending, to assure a clean, healthy water supply to Idahoans.

As the wolf population in Idaho continues to rapidly increase, federal dollars to control the population (as agreed upon) have dwindled. Hunters, the livestock industry, and state officials have frequently met to find funding sources to facilitate wolf management. The agreement will include an increase in spending by the livestock industry, hunters, and the state. The state will provide a one-time appropriation of 2 million dollars to be kept in a reserve account to use over many years. Those dollars will be combined with annual contributions from livestock producers and hunters to administer wolf population control. Our wildlife and livestock herds have suffered tremendous wolf predation losses since the wolf was introduced. By managing the wolf population down to the federally required numbers, our elk and deer herds should again begin to grow and fewer livestock incidents will occur.

Your input is always welcome. Many of the best ideas for problem solving come from the good citizens of Bingham County. You may easily contact me at sbair@senate.idaho.gov.

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