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Reassembling

The Idaho legislative session for 2010, the first back in the statehouse for what seems like a long time (and probably seems a lot longer to them), cranks up on Monday. Its tone, in this time of funding shortfalls, is unlikely to be cheerful.

But it may not be as terribly difficult a session as it’s been billed. And to the Idaho Falls Post Register‘s suggestion that “it’s not hyperbole to say 2010 could be the most important legislative session” since the last really turning-point session in 1965 . . . well, anything could happen, but from here the likelihood is that, yes, it’s hyperbole. This session is more likely to be one in a series, all pointing the same way.

1965 was a critical session because it changed things in Idaho, quite a few things, starting with the imposition of the sales tax and going on from there. It altered directions, to the point that politics reaction to it split and shifted.

There’s always a possibility that Idaho’s legislators (and governor, whose signature is a key component in whatever happens) will tear off in some whole new and unexpected direction. But based on what Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter has said, and what legislative chamber and budget leaders have said – and they none of them seem to be very far apart in their views – the course of the next three months or so looks pretty clear.

No new taxes or other significant money raisers – at most, maybe some small idea slips through. Basically, the revenue shortfalls will be made up by cuts, in schools, colleges and universities, health care, parks, and all sorts of other things. The main exceptions may be those agencies heavily reliant on dedicated funds of money (like the hunting and fishing fees going to Fish & Game). Otherwise, deep cuts all over.

The exact numbers will be up for grabs. Otter will offer his list tomorrow. Legislators will accept some of those numbers, adjust some. But in the main this will be a chopping block session.

And when it is done, the trajectory of the last session – which was heavy into cutting as well, though not as much as this one likely will be – will be continued. And the overall style of budget limitations Idaho has seen for some years will be simply put on steroids.

Not so much a new direction as an acceleration of what has been. A simple and straightforward shot. Other subjects will arise for consideration, of course; at any given time, most legislators aren’t working on the budget, so they’ll have time for other things too. But as we sit here now, this could be one of the shorter sessions in recent years. The big decisions seem already to have been made.

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