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Legislature entering final week with some big issues to consider

Legislature entering final week with some big issues to consider

Idaho Freedom Foundation staff
March 26, 2012

From the Idaho Statesman: Legislature in final week still has some major items in both the House and the Senate including tax cuts, teacher and the issue that dominated the session last week, ultrasound legislation.


Big-ticket issues up next for Idaho Legislature during its waning days


Posted: 12:00am on Mar 26, 2012

BOISE — As the Idaho Legislature enters its final push in 2012, the Senate and House still have big-ticket bills to reconcile before heading home, including legislation on tax cuts and teacher salaries.

Several controversial measures — such as an abortion ultrasound bill, a ban on industrial wind farms and a state health-insurance exchange — may wind up on the cutting room floor as lawmakers hone in on the higher priority legislation.

Lawrence Denney, House speaker, said the decks have been mostly cleared to tackle a Senate-passed, five-year plan for teacher salaries, tax cuts and possibly making baby steps toward limiting a hated tax on business equipment.

“Those are the major issues we have left to address,” Denney said. “We’re hoping to be out of here by midweek.”

But House and Senate lawmakers will have to square their priorities if they want to meet that soft deadline.

The House is lobbying hard to cut state income taxes by $35 million, while the Senate fears committing so much money now, just as the economy is recovering, would leave the state without enough money to put into reserves should Idaho's fortunes plummet again.

Brent Hill, Senate President Pro Tem, said discussions revolve around those bills, but there’s no consensus.

“We’re getting closer,” said Hill, R-Rexburg. “...There are a lot of dynamics here. It's not just a matter of leadership striking an agreement and making it so. You've got 105 legislators that still have to vote on this.”

Two points of disagreement dominate.

First, the state is about $32 million ahead of Gov. Butch Otter’s revenue estimates for the current year.

Also, Otter’s revenue estimate for 2013 is about $33 million more than what the Legislature agreed to.

But the Legislature’s leaders are suspicious that the money will really materialize.

“Do we assume because were ‘x’ number of dollars ahead of forecast that that’s where we’re going to end up,” Hill said. “...There are disagreements about the amounts that we'll have available.”

Otter has also made it clear he prefers the individual income tax cut amounting to $35 million annually, which has also been approved by the House.

Senators fear that using $35 million for income tax relief — which would amount to a $71 annual tax cut for families of four earning $100,000 — could eat into money they’d like to put into rainy-day savings and the Senate's measure to restore teacher pay.

With conversations swirling around state finances and salaries, plans may falter for a state health-insurance exchange, which Idaho insurers have been heavily lobbying for as a way to keep the federal government from setting up its own exchange foreseen by President Barack Obama's 2010 health-care overhaul.

And the fever-pitch fight over a bill requiring pregnant women to receive an ultrasound of their fetus before having an abortion may also be on life support.

Hill said he doubted it would make an end-of-session revival.

“I don’t think it’s part of the going-home package,” Hill said.

The legislation, and its sponsor Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, garnered intense, nationwide scrutiny, culminating midweek in a staged event by anti-abortion activists where six woman underwent public ultrasounds in the state Capitol.

GOP representatives, normally eager to support social legislation, are balking on concerns that this bill might be no less intrusive than Obama’s own reforms.

Even so, the last week of the Legislature is often a theater of surprises.

Denney didn’t rule the ultrasound bill, or a contentious plan to put a two-year moratorium on wind farms that’s been languishing on the House calendar, out of consideration.

"Whether we take them up or not is another question," Denney said.

AP writer John Miller contributed to this report.

Read more here: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2012/03/26/2050849/big-ticket-issues-up-next-for.html#storylink=cpy

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