Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published in “Day: May 8, 2009”

Sine die, Idaho

The 2009 Idaho Legislature is done, barely in time - one day ahead of tying the all-time record for longest legislative session, a record no one there wanted to reach.

They did it by reaching agreement, of sorts, on transportation funding, that being the big issue that has kept the session alive the last few weeks. The "of sorts" part is significant.

Last this space said the session will continue until "you get either a compromise out of the governor and the House (the governor has offered such in recent days), or a cave from one of them." So what happened in this case? The spin will run all over the place, but after looking at the packages and comparing to what was demanded, a reasonable conclusion seems to be: A little compromise from the Idaho House, a much larger given from Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter - more a cave on his side than theirs.

Otter partisans can point out that he did in fact get something for additional transportation funding. Here is how Otter's press release puts it:

“If an admittedly stop-gap measure can provide a level of certainty and predictability, this is it,” Governor Otter said. “Our work is just beginning, but this will enable us to meet our most immediate needs – including the interest payments on GARVEE – while planning how best to pay for the maintenance, repair and improvement projects that our $16 billion highway system so badly needs.”

The agreement provides $28 million a year in new revenue in the budget year that begins July 1 by increasing DMV administrative fees and removing the ethanol tax exemption. It provides another $29 million a year in additional new revenue beginning on July 1, 2010, by diverting the state fuel tax allocations now going to the Idaho State Police and the Department of Parks and Recreation.

Bear in mind that a good deal of this $57 million or so is a shift from other budgets. And compare that with what Otter proposed originally in his state of the state speech this year: "My overall plan ultimately will raise more than $174 million a year in new revenue for transportation after five years. Now, I know that’s not the $240 million a year that we all have been talking about. But these are difficult times for many Idahoans. And as I said earlier, it is important that we find ways to do our jobs within their means."

The majority of the majority caucus in the House, we'd suspect, ended this session happier than Otter did.

Air backcountry rescued

Not typically would you get people from the Idaho backcountry actively cheering something that people in Congress do, but they're no doubt cheering today.

Some months back, the U.S. Postal Service said it would end air mail delivery (generally weekly, less often in the winter) to the scattered people in Idaho's remote backcountry. If you've not been there or know what life in like in that part of the world, you probably wouldn't know what a massive smack this was. Regular air trips from McCall or Cascade into the remote places are underwritten in part by the post deliveries, which for 34 years have been done by pilot Ray Arnold (and people working with him), and those flights often bring in food, medical and other supplies as well as the mail. Life without those deliveries would become much, much harder.

When word of the cutback got out, the Idaho congressional delegation got on the case. Representative Walt Minnick seems to have been first up (the territory in question is generally in Idaho's first, not second, congressional district), but both Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch jumped on as well.

Yesterday, they were able to deliver a joint press release saying "Mail delivery will continue for residents of Idaho’s Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness . . . U.S. Postmaster General John Potter, in separate letters today to Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch and Representative Walt Minnick, reversed an earlier decision to cancel the contract for backcountry mail delivery. Potter indicated that acceptable service to backcountry customers could not be achieved in any other fashion other than continuing an air mail contract with Arnold Aviation to deliver the mail."