Idaho’s four highest-ranking legislators shared their thoughts on key issues during the annual Associated Press legislative preview at the statehouse Thursday. Brad Little also met with the media to discuss the upcoming legislative session—just one day before he was sworn in as Idaho’s 33rd Governor, succeeding C.L. “Butch” Otter, who served for the past 12 years. Little will give his first State of the State address Monday at 1:00 p.m., when he has promised to provide more details about his vision for the state, especially what he plans for public education. He shared some insight during Thursday’s media session, and the legislative leaders also gave some indication about what the key issues will be during the session. An archived version of Thursday’s AP legislative previews is available through Idaho In Session.
Legislative Leaders Weigh In
Speaker of the House Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, and Minority Leader Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, represented the House during the AP media session. Senate Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg was joined by Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum from the Senate. Here are some of the highlights from their discussion, in particular regarding education topics.
- Public Education Funding Formula. Bedke has served on the Funding Formula Committee, which met several times over the last three years to come up with recommendations for revisions to Idaho’s method for funding public education. He reiterated Thursday that the current formula is obsolete. He also indicated that he is disappointed that some people who supported the change, in theory, have now backed off when the proposed changes created winners and losers among school districts. “None of the underlying assumptions have changed,” he said. None of the other legislators directly addressed the funding formula committee recommendations.
- Educator compensation. Bedke indicated that everyone concerned is committed to funding the fifth and final year of the current Career Ladder salary allocation plan, which has an estimated cost of $52.9 million. He also said the legislature will be looking at another five-year plan but did not provide details. On a cautionary note, Bedke noted that raising teacher pay takes money in an era when revenues are flattening. Stennett tried to head off talk of a tax cut, saying “it is probably not prudent given the investment needed in education.” Erpelding commented on what he called “the absurdity of talking about having to tighten our belts when we are not in recession.”
- Budgets and revenues. All four leaders acknowledged the uncertainty surrounding a drop, or at least a delay, in revenue from personal income tax collections. Due to last year’s tax law changes, Idaho is behind schedule in terms of revenue collected from personal income taxes, although some, or perhaps most of that may still come in around the April 15 tax filing deadline. Bedke noted that the delay in revenue coming in may push those funds into the next fiscal year. All four seemed to think the uncertainty in revenue would likely prevent elimination of the grocery tax this year. Hill expressed hope that the coffers might get a boost from taxes on internet sales, where a court case involving the online retailer Wayfair is pending. Stennett noted there are several funding buckets the state is constitutionally mandated to address, including public education, public defenders, and Medicaid expansion.
- Medicaid expansion. Erpelding described the recent passage of Proposition 2 as the voters saying “enough is enough” on kicking the can down the road regarding medical coverage for the so-called gap population. Stennett said voters sent a clear message that they want a “clean” plan and encourage legislators to look at the situation from a long-term perspective. Bedke and Hill acknowledged the “will of the people” aspect of Medicaid expansion but stressed there is much work to be done to figure out the best way to implement and fund the new plan. Both left the door open for some kind of work requirement attached to expansion.
Little Shares Some of His Vision
In his media session, Little deferred most of his answers about education issues to his State of the State address, which takes place Monday at 1:00 p.m., but he did offer a few comments about public education and other issues which will be at the forefront of the upcoming legislative session.
- On teacher salaries and the final year of the Career Ladder, Little said, “pay attention to what I said on the campaign trail” and indicated more information would be coming Monday. While campaigning, Little advocated for a return to the original Career Ladder structure with allocation tiers of $40,000, $50,000, and $60,000 for educator compensation.
- Little was mostly non-committal regarding the Funding Formula Committee’s recommendations to the legislature. He did note that he sees the formula as a “zero-sum game” and that he is opposed to what he called “perverse incentives”, where districts game the system to get more funding.
- Many questions dealt with the implementation and funding of Medicaid expansion, which voters overwhelmingly approved via Proposition 2 in the last election. Little indicated that he would work with the legislature to come up with an “Idaho solution” to find the resources needed and develop the structure of the legislation. He also did not rule out the concept of a work requirement provision, saying he believes expansion should have a “safety net”, but one with “springs” that will enable people to eventually move off of Medicaid.
- Other issues that Little expects to be addressed during the upcoming session are:
- Idaho’s 60% goal for post-secondary degrees or certificates.
- Just where they state stands on revenue in the wake of last year’s tax changes and reports of decreased or delayed collections of income taxes.
- Getting a handle on Idaho’s growing incarceration rate and problematic corrections infrastructure.
Little’s State of the State address will be carried live and online Monday by KTVB-TV, Channel 7 in Boise and several other media outlets. The IEA will have a statement in response to the State of the State address in a special Hotline Monday evening.
Make sure you get all the latest news on legislative and policy developments from the session by subscribing to the Hotline, which is e-mailed every Friday and as action items occur during the legislative session.