Going home for legislators means some bills won’t be heard, others must move quickly
Idaho Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, told IdahoReporter.com Monday that if everything lines up perfectly, lawmakers could end their work for the year on April 1. If that projection is correct, legislators have some heavy lifting to do before they head home because several important bills are either awaiting introduction or a hearing.
One of the first bills to be discussed at the beginning of the legislative session was Meridan GOP Rep. Marv Hagedorn's bill to cut the state's personal and corporate income tax to 4.9 percent, effectively making the rates some of the lowest in the country. The plan was backed by Gov. Butch Otter in his State of the State address, but has since been put on the back burner.
Hagedorn told IdahoReporter.com that the legislation is almost ready and should be introduced in coming days. The delay, he explained, was caused by extra work on the plan in order to make sure the numbers worked within future tax revenue projections. The bill counts on a growing Idaho economy and wouldn’t work if that isn’t in place. “It appears that our economy is starting to recover and we need that to happen before we can pull the trigger on this,” said Hagedorn.
The proposal would reduce taxes rates incrementally in a 10-year period and new tax surpluses would cover amounts lost due to lowering of the rates. Idaho’s top personal tax sits at 7.6 percent, while the highest corporate income tax is 7.8 percent. If economic recovery is slower than expected, the state could delay the downward march toward a lower tax rate in order to stabilize budget numbers.
Hagedorn believes he has enough support in the House – he says he has signed the majority of representatives on as co-sponsors – and maybe even the Senate. “I’ve been working with the Senate and I think we’ve got good support over there,” said Hagedorn. “The majority of senators support the concept.”
He couldn’t give a set date to expect a hearing on the bill, but did say that printing is happening this week.
Early in the session, Rep. Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, told IdahoReporter.com that he would bring a bill to prevent state lawmakers from getting huge pension payoffs after long legislative careers by being appointed to state jobs with six-figure salaries. Though days are short, Lake says the bill is on its way. “We do plan on introducing it,” he said. “The bill is out there, I just didn’t want to get it buggered up with other legislation, so I held it until the end of the session.”
Another proposal tossed around by Lake prior to the session was a plan to hike the state’s cigarette tax by $1.25. Though he intended to bring the bill as a mechanism to cut down on smoking rates in the state, he says the measure wasn’t popular with members of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, which is where all tax bills must originate. “We don’t have the votes to pass it,” said Lake. “There’s no sense in beating our heads against the wall.”
One bill already introduced but that has yet to receive a formal hearing is a measure to limit what purchases the Idaho Land Board could make. The panel is tasked with managing state endowment lands and generating money from them, but has been embroiled in controversy since it was reported last year that it had purchased a commercial storage facility.
A bill brought by Rep. John Vande Woude, R-Nampa, would have prohibited the board from buying businesses and most buildings, but the chairman of the panel to which the bill is assigned, the House Resource and Conservation Committee, won’t give the legislation a hearing. “There’s not a reason to hear it,” said Chairman Bert Stevenson, R-Rupert.
Stevenson wants to have a discussion about the duties of the Land Board, but acknowledges that legislators might be sending mixed messages. “We tell them to go out and run it like a business,” he explained. “The first time they go run it like a business, we say ‘you’re out of bounds, you can’t do that.’ We need to get our act together before we start coaching them.”
One proposal that won’t be introduced this year is Priest Lake Republican Rep. Eric Anderson’s bill to challenge federal ownership of Idaho land. Anderson told IdahoReporter.com in November that he planned to propose legislation that would use state eminent domain power to take federal land in Idaho, as Utah is attempting to do.
That proposal, Anderson said Tuesday, will not come forth in 2011. “The climate is not ripe,” said Anderson. “It’s not ready yet. It’s one I’d hoped to bring this year.” Anderson said he was too busy with other legislative work to finalize the bill.
Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, won’t propose an Arizona-style immigration reform bill, as he said he planned to do back in July 2010. Nonini says that he wants to let the legal challenge over the Arizona law work its way through the courts prior to bringing a similar measure to Idaho.
“In light of what happened with the Arizona bill, and being challenged by the federal court, and parts of it being thrown out, and those kinds of issues, my intent is to wait and see what happens there,” said Nonini. “There’s no sense running something that is going to have the same problem as Arizona’s bill had. The one I was going to run was pretty much a copy of Arizona’s.”