Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Week 13: legislators' reports

Here are excerpts from some of the e-mail newsletters that Idaho Democratic lawmakers sent home to their constituents about Week 13 of the 2009 Idaho Legislature. If you would like to receive regular updates from your legislators - Democrat or Republican - be sure to let them know.

Rep. Liz Chavez (District 7) - ... Last week there was a glimmer of hope that the slashing of 5 percent across the board in all agencies was going to be reduced to 3 percent, not my first choice but better than the number we were originally given. We will have to see if the Governor and Senate and House leadership can work together to forge a budget to meet our state's needs without further damage to the various department's ability to function.

I know that some, or many of you, read the article suggesting that my seatmate in the House of Representatives and I are casting irresponsible votes regarding raising the fuel tax to help fix and maintain our bridges and roads. I wouldn't presume to answer for the other good representative, however I would submit this opinion for your consideration. We can't make bridges or roads out of children, teachers, principals, aides, bus drivers, maintenance personnel, or parents but I believe that they are as much the infrastructure of our state and our future as those roads and bridges. I would hope that our Governor would be not only the "Transportation Governor", but the "Education Governor" as well.

Rep. Branden Durst (District 18) - Reacting to Gov. Otter's statement on the April 9 failure of a fuel tax increase, Rep. Durst wrote: With all due respect, Mr. Governor, your statement is irresponsible. You state, "For months now we have made every compromise, addressed every legitimate concern and provided every alternative that opponents wanted." With all due respect, Mr. Governor, but that is categorically false. As my debate against HB135 indicated you haven't even attempted to address every legitimate concern. You also haven't provided every alternative that opponents wanted. Are you saying that concerns about improving access and funding to alternative modes of transportation aren't legitimate? At what point did you invite members of the House Democratic Caucus from the Treasure Valley (who nearly all voted against your plans) to the table? At what did you ask us, "What do you need to get on board?"

To my knowledge the answer is obviously never. Even last week during the amending order, we tried as hard as we could to amend the bill so that it would address our concerns. You offered no leadership in supporting those issues that the people of my district care about. With all due respect, Mr. Governor, please don't suggest that you tried to meet us half way and certainly don't suggest that I am being irresponsible. I understand the problem, but will not be bullied or shamed into do something that I know is not in the strategic long term interests of the state of Idaho.

Rep. Phylis King (District 18) - Fish and Game has done a fantastic job of running their agency in the past few years, and they asked for a fee increase that averaged about 15 percent. Many sportsmen and sportsman groups supported this bill, saying hunting and fishing in Idaho is a bargain. 80 percent of Idahoans surveyed agreed it was a good thing to do. But the Senators on the other side of the Annex mucked up the bill and only increased out-of-state hunters and fishermen fees. I disagreed with the amendments, but as many on the committee said, half a loaf is better than none at all. So I voted for it. I’m sure they will be back in a year to ask for the other half of their request or else cut programs. By the way, non-game animals are protected by the Fish and Game and it is paid for by 99 percent federal funds. Thank God for the Feds who understand whole ecosystems.

Sen. Nicole LeFavour (District 19) - Writing today at her blog, Notes from the Floor:

For me home is within walking distance of the Capitol. For my colleagues it is generally not. Right now some are trying to extend leases, moving into hotels or contemplating sharing digs for what is a few days but could become a few weeks when you count the personalities involved in Idaho lawmaking.

For now the Senate's Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee members have stuck together on more mild cuts to state employee pay. Not a wholly moderate body, there seems to be a frustration on the Senate's part with House leadership for forcing votes from Republican members. The House has buckled down in its Republican caucus to make larger cuts state employee pay and to make the deepest possible cuts to Education.

... it is yet to be seen how the Senate will vote on tax increases for roads. Our Senate Caucus is unified even more than the House's Democratic caucus on this issue. If the vote is going to be close here as well I'm a bit surprised the Governor hasn't been chatting with us much about what he wants out of this session. There are a few things he wants, like lesser cuts to state employee pay which we might agree on. In years past he has been open to local option authority and I'd hope he might consider that and public transportation in particular as a worthy piece of any state wide transportation plan.

But he hasn't really called. So we'll keep at this staring at a board full of appropriations bills someone is worried about sending him. Until things start moving no one is going to budge. Until the first bill is vetoed we won't know how willing anyone is to take the heat of making this session go longer. Every day is probably one state employees' pay, one lay-off you might say.

We won't win a waiting game, only maybe a game of public chicken.

Rep. Wendy Jaquet (District 25) - I thought I would bring you up to date on last week's JFAC actions. On Wednesday, we voted to rescind the 3 percent across-the-board payroll cut to all state employees. At the Governor's request we voted to allow agency heads to allocate the personnel cost reductions at their discretion. Shirley Ringo (D-Moscow) and I, the two House democrats, voted with the 10 Senate members of JFAC tipping the vote. House Republicans met later that day and authorized their leadership to oppose this vote. They want a "trigger" to make the 2 percent reduction depending on revenue collections in the first and second quarters of this next fiscal year starting in July. The Governor's request was in writing, an email to all legislators, the previous week. Now I have seen a memo that says the Governor wants to change his mind and go along with the "trigger." The personnel cost reduction of 5 percent remains in the baseregardless. ...

... Because the Governor wants to put the stimulus monies to work as soon as possible, he and his executive advisory committee chose to recommend that the monies go to programs/agencies that are already in place such as the Department of Environmental Quality for water and sewer projects and to the Idaho Department of Transportation for road projects. JFAC chose to fund the water and sewer proposal as well as the Idaho Education Network for $3 million dollars - this will bring high speed connectivity to our rural areas and be matched by federal E-rate funds and grants; we proposed to fund $2 million toward the CAMP process, the aquifer management plan; and we appropriated $17 million dollars in transportation funds to the local highway districts. As of this writing we are hearing that the Governor is not happy with these decisions and we may be revisiting them in the future (which is why we may not be going home this week). Senator LeFavour (D-Boise) attempted a motion in JFAC to redirect the above funding to education operations which failed on a party line vote.

Rep. James Ruchti (District 29) - ... Increasing revenues through registration fees and the gas tax have been the central pieces of the Governor's agenda for the last two years, yet still he appears to be unsuccessful; at least so far. Originally the Governor proposed both a ten-cent fuel tax increase phased in over a five year period. He also proposed an increase in registration fees which amounted to nearly tripling the current registration fees for private drivers. Neither of these had much support in the Legislature.

Last week, the House debated HB135, a second piece of legislation to increase the gas tax by two-cents for the Fiscal Year 2010 only. This proposal failed on a vote of 37 against - 32 in-favor. I voted against the gas tax. If we had been able to make some headway that would mitigate cuts to education and other State services, I may not have felt the same about making a modest tax increase to support our State's transportation infrastructure. In the current situation, however, raising taxes for transportation doesn't make sense at the same time Idaho is cutting state workers' pay and making historic cuts to public education. I am sure we will be revisiting this issue.

On Friday we voted on the GARVEE project bill. This borrows against future federal highway money. While it is not all that good to borrow, it does make financial sense when the cost of construction now is less than in the future. The recession has dropped the costs of construction so current money buys even more. It also allows us to create and retain some construction jobs now when we really need them. In addition, Highway 30 between McCammon and Lava Hot Springs was the beneficiary of Garvee funding in the recent past. Our community has directly benefit from the Garvee program. I voted "yes" on Garvee. ...