In a story that moved yesterday, John Miller of the Associated Press aptly described the waning days of the 2012 Idaho Legislature as a debate between teacher pay and tax cuts. He wrote:
Weeks ago, senators voted 32-0 to reverse teacher salary funding cuts envisioned under public schools chief Tom Luna's “Students Come First” reforms last year. The estimated cost over five years is nearly $35 million.
But that legislation is languishing in the desk of House Education Committee Chairman Bob Nonini.
“I'm just nervous about committing future legislators to the additional money,” said Nonini, R-Coeur d'Alene, last week.
But the House isn't the only chamber holding hostages.
An individual income tax cut amounting to $35 million annually for top earners has Gov. Butch Otter's stamp of approval and has cleared the House, but it's getting the silent treatment in the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee, led by Sen. Tim Corder. … Corder, R-Mountain Home, says he's reluctant to give $35 million tax relief a hearing, on several counts.
For one, the bill provides only $71 in tax relief to a family of four earning $100,000, according to Otter's finance department. It simply doesn't provide much bang for the buck, Corder said.
And he fears that using $35 million for income tax relief might detract from momentum behind repealing personal property taxes on business equipment — and the Senate's effort to restore teacher pay.
Miller also noted that “odds are the 2012 session won't conclude until at least March 30, not Friday, as some had hoped.” That’s because, in addition to the budget drama, the Legislature just today began an ethics investigation into alleged conflicts of interest by Sen. Monty Pearce (R-New Plymouth) and must also decide whether or not to set up a health insurance exchange. Read his story here.
What’s more, although the Senate Education Committee today held what could potentially be its last 2012 business meeting, the House Education Committee is scheduled to meet tomorrow morning. Dozens of bills remain on the House and Senate dockets. One of them, H426 as amended, passed the Senate this afternoon. It’s the “8-in-6” bill from Rep. Steve Thayn (R-Emmett) that would allow students to complete eight years of schooling – seventh grade through the second year of college – in just six years. The bill pays part of the cost for students to take “overload” courses (mostly online, though summer school classes also qualify), but the Idaho Education Association had unanswered questions about the bill’s impact on the overall education budget. Nevertheless, the amended bill now returns to the House for its approval.
Also today, the House passed H559, a bill to cap annual general fund spending to 5.33 percent on the total amount of taxable income estimated by state tax officials each year. The vote was 48-21, with Democrats and some Republicans dissenting over the measure’s inflexibility at a time of increasing demands on state services.