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Legislators urge caution as they prepare to set new state budget

Originally posted on on Jan. 2.

BOISE — When state lawmakers open the 2019 legislative session on Monday they will be facing budget uncertainties that they haven’t seen in several years.

Through the first five months of the state’s current budget year, state revenues are lagging behind projections by $62.9 million, according to the Division of Financial Management and Legislative Services Office. What’s more, actual revenue is $27.2 million behind where it was at the same point a year ago.

The problem is weaker-than-expected income tax collections. But regardless of the cause, the revenue situation is likely to breed caution in the budget-setting process.

“It’s cause for caution,” said Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, the House vice chairwoman of the Legislature’s joint budget committee. “Sales and corporate tax revenues are up, but personal income tax revenues are down. It’s a challenging trend that will make this year particularly difficult to predict revenue upon which to base a budget.”

It’s too early to tell exactly what the revenue shortfall might mean for education. But K-12 is the state’s largest general fund expense each year, accounting for about 48 percent of state spending. That means any budgetary squeeze could affect the piece of the budget pie available for education.

Although the session isn’t underway yet, several big-ticket education items are already on either this year’s or next year’s budget wish lists. These include:

  • A $19 million supplemental funding request from Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra for her proposed Keep Idaho Students Safe school-safety initiative.
  • $52.9 million for a fifth year of educator pay raises under the career ladder salary law.
  • $27.8 milli
  • on in additional funding requests from Ybarra to further bolster teacher salaries.
  • $11.9 million for the first year of salary incentives known as master educator premiums, designed to reward the state’s most accomplished veteran teachers.

On top of education spending proposals, the Legislature is likely to consider a funding request to implement the Medicaid expansion voters approved through the passage of Proposition 2 and may receive increased funding requests for prisons or highways and bridges.

House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said there is a strong desire to honor the Legislature’s pledge to pay for the career ladder. He also expressed general interest in developing some sort of new plan to address education over the next five years.

“What’s in store for the legislative session will be driven by a couple of things,” Bedke said. “No. 1 is our desire to plan for the future, both in education and in the economy, to continue to position Idaho in ways that are favorable as to the business climate, the education climate and quality of life issues.”

In a conservative budget environment with a constitutional mandate to pass a balanced budget each year, that could lead to a tug-of-war over spending priorities this year.

“We can’t spend money we don’t have,” Horman said. “With overall revenues already trending downward, putting pressure on available funding for the current year’s budget, I expect a very conservative approach to budgeting for the next fiscal year.”

Bedke agrees.

“Everything is tempered on the revenue side and the budget side with caution,” he said.

More information about the budget and revenue should emerge in the coming days.

  • First, on Thursday and Friday, the Legislature’s Economic Outlook and Revenue Committee is tentatively scheduled to begin developing a revenue forecast, which will help drive the budget-setting process once the session officially kicks off.
  • On Monday, Gov.-elect Brad Little will issue a budget proposal in conjunction with his State of the State address.
  • Also on Monday, DFM is also expected to issue a revised revenue forecast.

All three events should provide additional insight into how the budget is likely to shape up.



Late or early? Magic Valley's first 2019 baby born late on Jan. 1, but before due date

BURLEY — The Magic Valley’s first baby of 2019 made her appearance relatively late in the day — at 4:06 p.m. on Jan. 1 — but a week early according to her due date.

Amyiah Cortez was born at Cassia Regional Hospital to Jazel Tena and Austin Tamcke of Burley. She was the only baby born at hospitals across the valley on Jan. 1.

She weighed in at 8 pounds and was 20 inches long.

“I didn’t think she’d be the New Year’s baby,” Tena said Jan. 2 as she held her daughter, who slightly wrinkled her tiny nose and kept her eyes tightly shut against the light streaming from the window at Cassia Regional Hospital. “I thought someone else would have one first. I think it’s a little exciting and it’s a big surprise. I wasn’t expecting this at all.”

Tena, who plans to become a registered nurse and eventually pursue a career as a nurse practitioner, said her coworkers at Park View Rehabilitation and Care Center in Burley, where she works as a certified nursing assistant, kept telling her she was going to have her baby on New Year’s Day.

Tamcke said he was still trying to process bringing a daughter into the world, let alone being the parents of the first New Year’s baby.

“It’s a lot to take in,” he said.

Stephanie Curtis, spokeswoman at the hospital, arrived at the maternity ward on Jan. 2 to present the new parents with a gray backpack diaper bag, as a gift from the hospital. The pack was stuffed with a blanket, bath towel, pink jammies, bibs, other baby care items and a couple of plush toys, along with a $50 gift certificate to be used at the hospital’s gift shop.

Laurie Welch Times-News / LAURIE WELCH, TIMES-NEWS  

Jazel Tena, of Burley, holds her new daughter, Amyiah Cortez, who was the first baby born in 2019 in the Magic Valley.

“It’s been a while since we’ve been around babies and it’s been a while since we’ve been changing diapers. That’s our baby over there,” Tena’s mother, Erika Cortez, also of Burley said gesturing to her youngest child, Javier Tena, 17, who was sitting on a couch next to his sister and her new baby.

“I am her uncle,” Javier Tena said. “And I am not ready for this.”

Janel Tena’s father, Adrian Cortez, and her mother were hoping their first grandchild would be born as a Christmas baby — because their daughter had some labor-type pains over the holiday.

No babies at all were born on Jan. 1 at St. Luke’s in Twin Falls or Jerome.

It was an unusual twist, especially for St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center in Twin Falls, which delivers about 1,800 babies a year and typically has three or four babies arriving each year on New Year’s Day.

After the quiet start to 2019, St. Luke’s Magic Valley welcomed Andrey J. Miranda at 6:41 a.m. Wednesday. He is the son of Annette Miranda and weighed 7 pounds 10 ounces and measured 19.5 inches long.

Angelique Iniguez-Elize made her debut at 8:18 a.m. Wednesday at St. Luke’s Jerome. She weighed 7 pounds 4 ounces and was 19.45 inches long. She is the daughter of Gloria and Eduardo Iniguez.

As of Wednesday afternoon, St. Luke’s Wood River Medical Center still hadn’t delivered its first baby of 2019.

Minidoka Memorial Hospital in Rupert and North Canyon Medical Center in Gooding do not deliver babies.

Romney bolts into Washington, criticizes Trump

WASHINGTON — Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP presidential nominee and incoming Utah senator, set himself apart from other Republicans in the new Congress with a blistering attack on President Donald Trump’s leadership and character. Romney’s strong denunciation could mark the start of a new rivalry within the party.

Romney put to rest expectations that he would take his time getting his footing in Washington. Instead, in a Washington Post column published two days before Romney was sworn into office, he said Trump’s “conduct over the past two years, particularly his actions last month, is evidence that the president has not risen to the mantle of the office.”

Trump, in a Twitter response, said he hoped Romney wouldn’t follow in the footsteps of Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who often criticized Trump and paid the price, opting to retire rather than risk defeat in a GOP primary in 2018.

“Would much prefer that Mitt focus on Border Security and so many other things where he can be helpful,” Trump tweeted. “I won big, and he didn’t. He should be happy for all Republicans. Be a TEAM player & WIN!”

Romney’s remarks prompted swift backlash from allies of the president in the Republican Party — including his own niece, Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee.

McDaniel retweeted Trump’s remarks about Romney and added that the president is constantly “attacked and obstructed” by the media and Democrats.

“For an incoming Republican freshman senator to attack @realdonaldtrump as their first act feeds into what the Democrats and media want and is disappointing and unproductive,” McDaniel tweeted.

GOP Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky said the 2020 election hopes of many Republicans in the Senate and House will be tied to Trump. He said the criticisms were bad for the Republican Party and made it harder to get things done in the Senate.

“I don’t think the president deserves a new senator coming in attacking his character,” Paul said.

Romney will be sworn in as a senator today.

By taking on Trump so early in his Senate career, Romney could be picking up where Flake and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., another retiring senator, left off.

Their retirements left some wondering whether any other Republicans would be willing to publicly criticize the president. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., noted that almost half the Senate Republicans are up for re-election in 2020 and some might feel the need to push back against Trump.

“They just saw what happened in 2018,” Durbin said, referring to Republicans losing the House majority in November. “I think, once they do polling back home, not all of them but many of them will find that independence is being rewarded.”

Romney had his public run-ins with the president before and tried to prevent him from winning the GOP nomination in 2016. In one speech, Romney said there was plenty of evidence that Trump was “a con man, a fake.” In that same speech, he said, “Dishonesty is Donald Trump’s hallmark.”

But after the presidential election, Romney eased off the criticism and interviewed to become Trump’s secretary of state. Trump picked former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, who lasted about 14 months before Trump fired him.

During his Senate campaign, Romney insisted that he would agree with Trump on some issues and not be shy about disagreeing with him on others. Romney appears to have more room with GOP voters in Utah to take on the president. More than half the voters in the state, 64 percent, would like to see Romney confront the president, according to data from AP VoteCast, a survey of midterm voters.

Romney, in his opinion column, credited Trump for cutting corporate taxes, stripping out what he described as excessive regulation and appointing conservative judges. But he said policies and appointments are only part of being a president.

A president, Romney wrote, must also demonstrate honesty and integrity and elevate the national discourse.

“With the nation so divided, resentful and angry, presidential leadership in qualities of character is indispensable. And it is in this province where the incumbent’s shortfall has been most glaring,” Romney wrote.

Trump said during a Cabinet meeting Wednesday that he was surprised by Romney’s comments. “People are very upset with what he did,” Trump said.

Romney later told CNN that there “are places where we agree on a whole series of policy fronts, but there are places that I think the president can, if you will, elevate his game and do a better job to help bring us together as a nation.”

Asked if we would endorse Trump for president in 2020, Romney said, “I’m going to wait and see what the alternatives are.”

Romney ruled out another run himself: “You may have heard, I ran before,” he said.

Some Trump critics within the GOP are hopeful that Romney’s comments are a sign of more to come from Republicans. Conservative commentator Bill Kristol tweeted that Romney’s words confirmed that “Trump’s dominance over the GOP, pretty complete until now, can no longer be taken for granted.”

“For now at least Mitt Romney has become the leader of the Republican Resistance to Trump,” Kristol said.

If you do one thing

If you do one thing: A community dance will feature music by the Shadows Band from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Snake River Elks Lodge, 412 E. 200 S., Jerome. Admission is $5.

KATHERINE JONES, Idaho Statesman 

Learning to ski was on Maggie Scott’s bucket list, so with her daughter Madison Scott’s moral support, the two of them took Tamarack Resort’s free 'Gateway to Skiing' lesson. 'This is fun,' said Maggie, even though she fell a couple of times. Madison did well, although her future with skiing was a 'maybe' after the lesson.


No deal to end shutdown; Trump says 'could be a long time'

WASHINGTON — No one budged at President Donald Trump’s closed-door meeting with congressional leaders Wednesday, so the partial government shutdown persisted through Day 12 over his demand for billions of dollars to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. They’ll all try again Friday.

In public, Trump renewed his dire warnings of rapists and others at the border. But when pressed in private by Democrats asking why he wouldn’t end the shutdown, he responded at one point, “I would look foolish if I did that.” A White House official, one of two people who described that exchange only on condition of anonymity, said the president had been trying to explain that it would be foolish not to pay for border security.

In one big shift, the new Congress will convene today with Democrats taking majority control of the House, and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said they’d quickly pass legislation to re-open the government — without funds for the border wall.

“Nothing for the wall,” Pelosi said in an interview with NBC’s “Today” show set to air today. “We can go through the back and forth. No. How many more times can we say no?”

But the White House has rejected the Democratic package, and Republicans who control the Senate are hesitant to take it up without Trump on board. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called it a “total nonstarter.” Trump said ahead of his White House session with the congressional leaders that the partial shutdown will last “as long as it takes” to get the funding he wants.

“Could be a long time or could be quickly,” Trump said during lengthy public comments at a Cabinet meeting, his first public appearance of the new year. Meanwhile, the shutdown dragged through a second week, closing some parks and leaving hundreds of thousands of federal employees without pay.

Democrats said they asked Trump directly during Wednesday’s private meeting why he wouldn’t consider their package of bills. One measure would open most of the shuttered government departments at funding levels already agreed to by all sides. The other would provide temporary funding for Homeland Security, through Feb. 8, allowing talks to continue over border security.

“I said, Mr. President, Give me one good reason why you should continue your shutdown,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said afterward. “He could not give a good answer.”

Trump’s response about looking foolish was confirmed by a White House official and another person familiar with the exchange, neither of whom was authorized to describe the exchange by name. Trump campaigned saying Mexico would pay for the wall, but Mexico refused.

At another point Wednesday, Trump told Pelosi that, as a “good Catholic” she should support the wall because Vatican City has a wall, according to a congressional aide. Trump has mentioned the Vatican’s centuries-old fortifications before, including at the earlier Cabinet meeting. But Democrats said they don’t want medieval barriers, and Pelosi has called Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border immoral.

“I remain ready and willing to work with Democrats,” Trump tweeted after the meeting. “Let’s get it done!”

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy said that there’s no need to prolong the shutdown and that he was disappointed the talks did not produce a resolution. He complained that Democrats interrupted Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen as she was trying to describe a dreadful situation at the border.

Nielsen, participating in the meeting by teleconference, had data about unaccompanied minors crossing the border and a spike in illegal crossings, and she tried to make the case to the group that current funding levels won’t suffice, according to the White House.

“We were hopeful that we could get more of a negotiation,” said McCarthy.

He said the leaders plan to return to the White House Friday to continue negotiations. White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said on Fox that Pelosi will be “more able to negotiate” once she is elected speaker, as expected today.

The two sides traded offers, but their talks broke down ahead of the holidays. On Wednesday, Trump also rejected his own administration’s offer to accept $2.5 billion for the wall. That proposal was made when Vice President Mike Pence and other top officials met at the start of the shutdown with Schumer, who left saying they remained far apart. On Wednesday Trump repeatedly pushed for the $5.6 billion he has demanded.

The partial government shutdown began on Dec. 22. Funding for the wall has been the sticking point in passing essential spending bills for several government departments.