Public education and transportation funding dominated this year’s legislative session. Strengthening our educational system and maintaining our transportation infrastructure are vital to the social and economic success of our state. Idaho is truly becoming the state of choice for doing business and raising families. Thank you for the privilege to represent you. With the 2015 legislative session recently concluded, I wanted to share with you some of this year’s highlights:
More Money for Teachers through Career Ladder
Following the recommendation of the Governor’s Task Force for Improving Education, the Legislature approved a career ladder that will raise state funding for teacher pay every year for the next five years. Next year’s boost in teacher compensation is $33.5 million and within five years, that will expand to almost $214 million in additional funds annually. The Idaho Education Association joined the Idaho Association of School Administrators, the Idaho School Boards Association and other stakeholders in praising the action. “You spent hours listening to teachers,” IEA executive director Robin Nettinga told legislators. “They felt respected, they felt valued and they felt supported.” That’s as it should be!
Record High Support for Schools
Lawmakers got the message that Idahoans care about education. The Legislature appropriated the largest amount for public schools in the state’s history. The $1.435 billion budget is $101 million (7.4%) greater than the prior year. There is not only more money for teacher compensation, but also for operations, classroom technology, and professional development for teachers.
Flexibility for Local School Districts
Madison School District, among others, wants options beyond the SBAC for testing student achievement. Although it will take some time to implement, we passed legislation to provide more flexibility in the choice of test, testing schedules, test duration, and standards, allowing local school districts to determine what is best for them.
We all know that Idaho’s transportation system is vital to our public safety, commerce, and even tourism. Yet, we have postponed needed maintenance due to lack of adequate funding. We have nearly 700 bridges that are structurally deficient. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave Idaho’s bridges a D+ rating. Deferring maintenance is like deficit spending—the longer it is put off, the more it will cost our children to overhaul further-damaged roads and bridges in the future. The Legislature recognized that it was time to develop a fiscally responsible plan for funding transportation.
But raising taxes is not easy for lawmakers and it took the entire legislative session to design workable funding strategies. The result will generate approximately $94 million annually for state and local roads and bridges:
- 7¢ increase in fuel tax ($1.12 per 16-gallon fill-up).
- $21 bump in vehicle registration fees.
- 50% of annual budget surpluses to be transferred from the General Fund to transportation funding. The other 50% will go into the Budget Stabilization Fund (savings).
Extending Tax Credits
Five years ago I drafted legislation that temporarily increased the income tax credits for donations to Idaho schools (including BYU-Idaho) and other organizations. The enhanced credits were scheduled to expire this year, but recognizing the magnitude of financial benefits schools have received, the Legislature made the higher credit limits permanent. This law allows people to reduce their state income tax liabilities by 50% of any donations made to Idaho schools in addition to deducting the donation as a charitable contribution. This results in the school receiving the entire benefit at a fraction of the cost to the donor. The maximum annual amount of the credit has now been permanently increased from $100 to $500 ($1,000 on a joint return). Credits for corporate donations are raised from $1,000 to $5,000. These credits encourage over $6 million annually in donations to Idaho schools and other organizations.
Protecting Parental Rights
Government has a responsibility to protect and preserve the family. In contrast to that responsibility, governmental agencies sometimes threaten the family and interfere with the rights and roles of parents. Parental rights are both implicit in the concept of ordered liberty and deeply rooted in our nation’s history. They are also among the unalienable rights retained by the people under the Ninth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Although Idaho has had no court cases in which this right has been downgraded, there was a Supreme Court case in which this fundamental right was not acknowledged and court cases in other states where the fundamental right has been downgraded. So there would be no doubt in Idaho courts, we codified this fundamental right of parents.
Gambling Prohibition Vetoed
Idaho’s Constitution permits pari-mutuel betting, but it cannot “employ any form of casino gambling including…slot machines, or employ any electronic or electromechanical imitation or simulation of any form of casino gambling.” Although I opposed it, in 2013 the Legislature granted “historic horse racing” (watching and wagering on horse races that had already occurred). Ignoring the Constitution and the intent of the law, casino type facilities started springing up around the state with hundreds of slot machines under the guise of “instant horse racing.” Proliferation of such casinos was imminent so I carried a bill to repeal the law they were abusing. Consequently, one of the most ugly and well-funded legislative battles I have experienced plagued the Legislature for weeks before both the Senate and House overwhelmingly passed the bill to outlaw the casinos and halt their expansion, but Governor Otter vetoed the bill.
Other Legislation of Interest
- H75 Exempting eyeglasses and contact lenses from sales tax.
- H154 Prohibiting webcam abortions.
- S1156 Providing for clinical trials of cannabis oil for children with intractable seizure disorders.
- S1108 Allowing testing of autonomous driven vehicles (driverless cars).
- S1066 Permitting political parties to conduct Presidential Primary elections, instead of a caucus.
- H96 that resulted in extending the validity of Idaho drivers licenses to allow access to federal facilities (such as the INL).
- H1 designating the Idaho giant salamander as the official state amphibian.
Hundreds of bills are considered during the legislative session. Only a fraction of them ever become law. Our responsibility is not only to enact good legislation, but also to protect against bad legislation.
There’s a better way to keep informed on legislative issues in Idaho. My electronic newsletter via email will keep you up-to-date on a more regular basis. To subscribe, just send me an email to[email protected] with SUBSCRIBE on the Subject line. Updates are generally weekly during the legislative session.6