“If the governor presumes that he has the support of the minority caucus, I suggest that he needs to re-consider that position.”
Thus were the remarks of Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise, as he and other members of the House and Senate Democratic caucus responded Tuesday to Gov. Butch Otter’s State of the State address.
Noting that his party will “carefully consider” the governor’s proposal for a state-based health insurance exchange, Durst warned that “we need to be spoken to,” and that the Democrats need more details about the governor’s proposals.
Speaking to IdahoReporter.com after the Democratic press conference, Durst elaborated on his remarks about the governor’s insurance exchange proposal. “I’m saying that the governor should not take anything for granted,” he noted. “I serve on the committee in the Senate that will likely see the governor’s bill first. I have neither seen nor heard anything from the governor or his staff, and I believe he should be communicating with all of us.”
Republicans control the Idaho Senate by a 28-7 margin, the House 57-13.
Reading from a prepared statement, Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, began the Democratic caucus press conference by noting that “we believe that elected officials are servants of the public” and “we’re excited about the prospect of this new legislative session, and the opportunity to work with the governor and our colleagues.”
House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said that the caucus is open to the governor’s proposal of eliminating Idaho’s controversial personal property tax. “While we seek policy to help our major employers thrive, we must be sure that our communities are not impoverished,” said Rusche.
In Monday’s State of the State address, Otter suggested that to replace the personal property tax, counties should be given local option taxing authority, so local residents can choose more directly how to fund county services. But the governor declined to offer specifics when asked what kind of tax he believes counties should pursue to replace the personal property tax; however, he did suggest that a statewide Internet sales tax could be part of the solution.
“The Internet sales tax should certainly be a part of our discussion,” Stennett told IdahoReporter.com in response to the governor’s remarks. “The Internet sales tax is an issue of fundamental fairness between online and traditional retailers, and it’s an issue, in and of itself, that we should be talking about.”
Rusche noted that “the Democratic caucus has no official position on the matter right now, but we need communities that work.”
Members of the Democratic caucus also commented on Otter’s proposal for to expand the Idaho Department of Corrections with a new correctional facility for mentally ill prisoners. “We need to expand mental health services,” Stennett said, adding that “we have veterans returning home to Idaho who suffer with mental illness, and they need our help.”
Referring to Otter’s proposed 2 percent increase in K-12 education funding as “meager,” the Democratic caucus also lamented that Otter has proposed no funding increases for higher education. “Businesses require trained and capable workers,” Stennett noted, suggesting that education funding increases need to be considered along with the personal property tax elimination, as a means of bolstering the state’s private enterprise base.