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Idaho Legislature: Approaching backend?

Idaho legislators are approaching the point at which they’ll be starting to consider how many more days are left before sine die – going home. A few observations after a little prowling, observing and conversations . . .

There is external pressure for an adjournment in another month or so: Renovation of the Idaho Statehouse is supposed to get seriously underway in April, and the plan calls for the Idaho Legislature to be gone by then, and its staff and offices – some of which are year-round – to evacuate by then.

There’s nothing about this session that requires a push of that envelope. Finances are not tricky this year (though lawmakers may want to be a little cautious, since an economic slowdown on the horizon is barely reflected in budget numbers so far). Nor are there any other hot topics that constitute likely speed bumps. There’s some aura of speed to the legislature this year, to the point of raising some wondering of whether speed in some places (the budget-setting Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, for one) is moving to the point of shortchanging careful consideration.

However, two uneasy passes do exist.

One is a variance between the Senate and House, notably over tax legislation. (The Senate Local Government and Tax Committee, it is said, has decided to absolutely block anything that would constitute a sales tax exemption.) This hasn’t led to a major snag so far, and it could be that it doesn’t. But smooth continued operation would require more Senate-House coordination than appears to have been the case so far. (The new Republican leadership in the House, for example, seems to be feeling its oats.)

Probably more significant than that, and maybe harder to resolve, is the upcoming butting of heads between lawmakers – especially budget setters – and Governor Butch Otter. Otter has included a number of new ideas in his budget, but not all the details are necessarily there. The message from a number of legislators seems to be: Not to outright disagree with where you’re going, governor, but isn’t this more properly something that ought to be considered, reviewed and fleshed out over the next year or so, rather than rushed into now? (The realigning of the Department of Administration and Human Resources division fall into this category.)

There’s some indication – hints, really – that Otter may be open to easing the schedule in the interest of working it through, making some of his initiatives two-year projects, or maybe more. But Otter may also be reflecting that, in this early set of dealings with the legislature, tones are being set, and he isn’t going to want to be perceived as a pushover. He’s having to step carefully.

Given all this, the pressures for deliberating for a while longer may match or exceed the pressures for an early adjournment.

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