The two leaders of the of the House budget-writing committee coordinated to send a message to their colleagues last week.
House Appropriations Chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, told IdahoReporter.com Monday she and the panel’s vice chair, Rep. Marc Gibbs, R-Grace, voted against a $28 million tax cut bill in protest.
“It was about what we know we have to do,” Bell said after Monday’s floor session.
What they, the budget committee members, have to do isn’t simple: balance the governor’s big spending budget requests with the Legislature’s center-right stance on spending, while fulfilling some statutorily required budget items. It’s a heavy lift.
Gov. Butch Otter wants to add more than $200 million to the state’s budget, with more than half of that directed toward education. The education request includes more than $40 million in new money to boost teacher pay -- one of the spending items required by the career ladder law.
The governor’s spending plan also seeks to increase school district discretionary spending by $30 million, bolster student mentoring money by $5 million, and fund reading intervention programs to the tune of $10 million.
Those items, mixed with recent economic turbulence, gave Bell and Gibbs pause.
“We are so tight this year,” Bell said. “We just didn’t think we could do it all.”
The House passed the bill on a 53-to-16 vote last week. Rep. Paul Romrell, R-St. Anthony, joined Bell and Gibbs as the only Republicans in the opposition minority.
Bell said the number of dissenters could have been higher.
“We told our committee not to vote with us, because they wanted to,” she said. “We said, ‘no, let us make this statement. You don’t feel like you have to vote with us’.”
One committee member, Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, told IdahoReporter.com Friday she believes lawakers can balance new spending and modest tax relief in 2016.
“That’s why I voted the way I did,” Horman said Friday. She voted in favor of the bill to reduce taxes.
Bell offered one more reason for opposing the bill, which cut taxes -- by a collective $22.8 million -- for anyone who earns more than $7,260 a year, while expanding Idaho’s grocery tax credit by $10 a year for low-income earners.
“Where I live, it didn’t help a lot of people,” she said.
The measure now awaits a hearing in the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee. The panel’s chair, Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, aligned with Bell’s thinking when asked about the plan last week.
“We will see how much we need,” Siddoway wrote Monday. “Then when we know that we will know how much we [can] afford for relief.”
Last year, Siddoway held tax-relief hostage until legislators agreed to boost starting teachers’ pay to $40,000 a year. Lawmakers acquiesced, and passed the career ladder plan, which included the pay increase.