Education, transportation and tax reform. These three items were on the top of most legislators’ lists when they convened in Boise in January. After all, it is a non-election year and lawmakers felt they had some breathing room to tackle these tough issues, which all require the hot-button issue of money.
Thirteen weeks later and we are finally seeing the culmination of their work on their top priorities, but not without fireworks and drama between the east and west end chambers of the Capitol. And not without seemingly ignoring other priorities, the very issues we elected them to fix.
Last week, lawmakers passed a 7.4 percent increase in education funding. We were delighted to see the Legislature favor the recommendations of Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter instead of the weaker, less-than-impressive request from state Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherry Ybarra, who asked for a measly 6.4 percent. Fourteen million dollars is critical to our schools’ resuscitation.
They also tackled the teachers’ career ladder legislation, implementing respectable pay. While not quite to the level Otter’s task force recommended, it is a start. We hope they build on their momentum and fund the upcoming years.
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We must admit that our first thought this week was, About time! Our schools are severely underfunded and our teachers under paid. We spent an entire campaign season last year listening to the woes of our education system, and we were dumbfounded that it took almost 100 days for them to agree on a bill. But the work isn’t done and the Legislature should skip planning the sine die party until they live up to the rest of their promises.
Idaho’s roads and bridges are crumbling and the problem is only escalating. With a $250 million projected shortfall in transportation funding, we run the risk of stalling our economic engine. After all, next year is an election year and history has shown it again and again: Not much will get done.
We were excited at the prospects of real action last week when House Speaker Scott Bedke and Majority Leader Mike Moyle decided to amp up transportation and tax reform efforts. They united their caucus the best they could and delivered up House Bill 311, which would increase taxes and registration fees to fund roads, eliminate the sales tax on groceries and lower the top tier income tax to less than 7 percent. In a refreshing stab at compromise, it was a little bit for everyone. But the senators on the west end of the building must have felt slighted because they let it die before a vote could even be taken.
Now it appears the two bodies are in a showdown of sorts. Who will blink first is anyone’s guess. We hope they realize why we elected them and count on them to be desperate to take care of Idaho and its citizens. We hope they prove they are committed to making their campaign promises become Idaho’s future, rather than just getting tired and leaving Boise without a proper resolution. Another year of kicking the can down the road is just not acceptable.