March has come in like a lion in Idaho’s capital city. Not only did Boise see a rare second straight morning of snow, but, as Betsy Russell of the Spokesman-Review wrote, “a $36 million tax cut for Idaho’s top earners is roaring through the Idaho Legislature … even as Idaho’s reeling from three years of deep budget cuts to everything from schools to Medicaid, very few of which are being restored.”
The 49-20 vote for H563 came despite warnings from retiring House Revenue & Taxation Committee Chairman Dennis Lake (R-Blackfoot), who opposed the bill. Again, from Russell:
“We are creating a structural deficit in our revenue stream that we cannot deal with, without at some time in the future raising taxes,” Lake said, warning that to sustain the permanent tax cut, Idaho would have to see 7.8 percent growth in state revenues next year. Lawmakers adopted a revenue forecast showing just 4.5 percent growth next year.
Lake also told the House that the state risks repeating history of 11 years ago, when lawmakers enacted a permanent tax cut with one-time surplus funds two years before they had to vote in a temporary sales tax increase to avoid cuts to services. But this time, lawmakers are choosing tax cuts over restoring budgets after deep cuts have already been made, and they’re doing so in a more precarious environment than we had a decade ago. Eight Republicans joined 12 Democrats in opposing the cuts. Read more here.
It’s uncertain how the House’s push for tax cuts will play in the Senate, which may have different ideas about how to spend the state’s small surplus. Today, the Senate passed S1331, the bill from Sen. Dean Cameron (R-Rupert) that would require budget writers to fully fund the technology and pay-for-performance education mandates passed by lawmakers last year, rather than raiding salary-based apportionment. The five-year price tag for Cameron’s bill is about $35 million, the same as one year of tax cuts passed in the House today. S1331 now goes to the House side of the Capitol, where at least one senator hinted it may be amended.
• The House Education Committee narrowly passed H605, which increases the background check fee for teachers and other adults who work in public schools from $40 to $55. Jessie Bonner of the Associated Press reports:
Democratic Rep. Brian Cronin of Boise said he was troubled a teacher fee hike was being proposed a year after House lawmakers rejected a $1.50 court fee increase for people found guilty of felonies, misdemeanors or other infractions. The state Department of Education says the move is necessary because Idaho State Police is raising its portion of the background check fee from $10 to $25, citing an FBI fee increase. But passing those increased costs along to teachers gave some lawmakers heartburn. Lawmakers who supported the measure countered they had no choice.
• The House Education Committee introduced a bill to create a list of state-approved online courses for students to choose from when fulfilling their new high school graduation requirement. The bill introduced by the State Department of Education would create an online course clearinghouse.