2013 Legislative Preview

Almost one-third of the Idaho Legislature consists of newly-elected lawmakers, making the upcoming legislative session even more unpredictable than usual. Combine that with new leadership in the House of Representatives and the results are anybody’s guess. Still, there are some issues that promise to dominate the 2013 session:

State Budget

Idaho’s General Fund revenues have increased 4.2% since last fiscal year, but still less than the 4.8% predicted. That makes three years in a row that Idaho’s revenues have increased, but collections are still well below pre-recession levels. Balancing the budget at a time when many agencies, including public education, are struggling financially will be the legislature’s biggest job.

Education Reforms

With the defeat of the Education Reform Propositions, interested stakeholders are back to square one in addressing the need to better prepare our education system for the demands of a changing world. Some legislation is required to help school districts transition back to the old laws and, hopefully, they will be enacted early in the session to protect the school districts. Some minor reforms with which most people can agree will also be considered. Major education reforms, however, need the input of educators, administrators, parents, students, business leaders, and others. Governor Otter is assembling such a working group to determine what improvements are appropriate and make recommendations to the legislature. But soliciting everyone’s input takes time, so I do not expect the legislature to enact major education reform bills during the next session that starts on January 7.

Personal Property Tax Repeal

For many years there has been a bi-partisan effort to eliminate the personal property tax—an annual property tax levied against machinery and equipment used by businesses. The tax is onerous on business owners and difficult for governments to enforce. Although there is broad consensus on the need to repeal the unfair tax, there will be much debate on how best to manage the resulting loss of revenues to cities, counties, and other local taxing districts.

Health Insurance Exchange

Idaho has fought hard, seeking constitutional remedies to the infringement on individual and states’ rights imposed by the Affordable Care Act, but neither lawsuits nor elections have abolished the law. The federal act requires every state to establish a health insurance exchange where citizens can go online and compare the rates and benefits of various policies. States may create and operate their own exchange or the federal government will take over and do it for them. To defer to the federal government would inhibit our state’s ability to tailor an exchange to the needs of Idaho citizens and minimize the costs to participants. Some claim we should ignore the law in hopes that would somehow force Congress to repeal it. But, as Governor Otter explained, “There will be a health insurance exchange in Idaho. The only question is who will build it.” The legislature must approve Governor Otter’s decision for a state-based exchange and the debate will be intense.

Stay tuned for an exciting legislative session that will undoubtedly affect the life of every citizen. I welcome your comments on these or other issues that concern you. I can be contacted at bhill@senate.idaho.gov