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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.

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