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Posts tagged as “Idaho Legislature”

First take/tax match

One of the routine bills at the Idaho Legislature every year - every year for decades at least - is the tax match bill.

Every year, the Internal Revenue Service changes the rules, in ways large or small, for federal income taxes. And each year, reliably, Idaho follows suit, for the same reason other states imposing income taxes do: If they did not, residents and organizations would have to cope with far more complicated bookkeeping, trying to deal with two different tax standards. Are taxes a hassle for you? Failing to keep state rules in step with the federal would double the hassle factor.

Sometimes those changes do result in revenue changes for the state, either up or down. This year, a newly-allowed federal deduction on equipment buys by small businesses apparently could cost the state $22 million next year. It's not a huge ding in the context of the state budget, but it was enough to get mentioned when the IRS compliance bill came before the House tax committee.

Three committee members voted against the bill because of the change allowing joint filing by same-sex married couples.

Actually, in the current environment there's a little surprise that this normally routine bill doesn't become a cause celebre, with protests and nullification and all. After all, this is an issue with "federal" and "tax" written all over it.

Maybe though some legislators reflected on just how difficult filing their own taxes could become if the state doesn't fall in line. - rs (image/efile)

First take/defense fund

The name always sounded vainglorious - the Idaho "constitutional defense fund" - and its purpose a little iffy, since the state does already have an attorney general's office. (A pretty good one, too.) Still, you could sort of see the point of wanting to have some money set aside if state legislators wanted to defend what they do.

But the wisdom of having such a fund surely is linked to the wisdom used in tapping it. A new article by the Associated Press (disclosure: I'm quoted in it) looks into just that. And, it notes, since the first case in which the fund was used (over a nuclear waste agreement in 1996) "The next nine cases have all been losers for the state, including three cases defending abortion laws, two lawsuits involving gay rights and two lawsuits over the steps required to get initiatives on the ballot."

And by and large, the legislature was warned amply well in advance that these cases were not likely to succeed.

Legislators looking to cut budgets in the 2017 session might start with this one, unless they can figure out how to more wisely spend the money in the years to come. - rs

Closure unavailing

stapiluslogo1

“But they’re closed on Saturday!”

And not there on Friday either.

The Idaho Supreme Court decision last week throwing out Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter’s veto of the bill to ban instant horse racing at Les Bois Park, an action which has split pieces of the state executive and legislative branches down the middle, reads like a complex and abstract piece in most news reports. Attorney David Leroy called it a “sweeping and significant precedent.” Otter said he was certain the the veto he signed was valid.

What the court decision mostly was, was a recital of the law.

Let’s break it down.

Late in the afternoon of March 30, a Monday, Senate Bill 1011 (the racing bill) was physically carried to Otter’s office. He then could sign it into law, if he chose, or do nothing, in which case the bill would become law automatically. (Governors sometimes but not usually do this.) Or, he could veto it, but if he wanted to do that, he had to act promptly. The Idaho Constitution says: “Any bill which shall not be returned by the governor to the legislature within five days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, shall become a law in like manner as if he had signed it,” unless the legislature has already adjourned for the year. Which it hadn’t.

Otter’s choice was a veto, and he may have signed his veto message on April 3, a Friday. That’s within the five-day period. But the Constitution says the vetoed bill had to be returned to the legislature, specifically to the Senate, within those five days - that is, by Saturday afternoon. There was a complication: That was Easter weekend, and the legislature had adjourned on Thursday to take three days off.

Whether because of sloppiness or over-confidence or some other motivation, Otter or his staff must have thought it would be all right if the vetoed bill went back to the Senate the next Monday morning - which was more than five days (with Sunday not counted) after the bill was presented to him. What’s a few hours among friends?

And besides, what choice did he have? The legislature wasn’t there on Friday, right? The office doors were closed. How could he return the bill?

But the Idaho code actually covers a case like this. It says (in Section 67-504), “If, on the day the governor desires to return a bill without his approval and with his objections thereto to the house in which it originated, that house has adjourned for the day (but not for the session), he may deliver the bill with his message to the presiding officer, clerk, or any member of such house, and such delivery is as effectual as though returned in open session, if the governor, on the first day the house is again in session, by message notifies it of such delivery, and of the time when, and the person to whom, such delivery was made.”

In other words, the veto could have stuck if the governor’s office had on Friday or Saturday tracked down any state senator and handed him or her the vetoed bill - and then formally notified the Senate on Monday.

It helps if you know how things work. And what the law says.

The Idaho Supreme Court did make an interesting and possibly new point about “standing” when it held the Coeur d’Alene Tribe had standing to bring the case. But when it came to deciding this convoluted question of whether the veto was valid or not, it simply recited the law.

Tethered

In trying to evaluate the evolving end game of the Idaho Legislature, threatening to become the longest-ever next week, you're finding more immovable objects than irresistible forces.

The Idaho House has adjourned sine die - for the year - or so its majority hopes. That hope will die after three days, since the Idaho Senate is not adjourning, yet, and seems likely not to right away. And since in Idaho neither chamber can adjourn for more than three days without the approval of the other, the Idaho House will be back for more business. Probably on Monday.

(And yes, we've seen this happen before. The most memorable occasion we recall, from back in the 80s, it was the Senate that tried to adjourn, and was dragged back by the House.)

For all that, we're leaning toward the idea that the Idaho House's take on the sticking point issue - transportation funding - is the side more likely to prevail.

Evidence for this comes from Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter's Capitol for a Day visit to the small farm town of Midvale, the kind of conservative and traditional and Republican kind of place that ordinarily should be Otter's kind of place. Yesterday, however, in the Idaho Statesman's report, "Gov. Butch Otter spent six hours Tuesday fending off accusations he's abandoned rural Idaho and surrendered state sovereignty to the U.S. government."

And that he wants to raise taxes all over the place.

The mood was angry, we'd guess Otter was stunned by the reaction. This really was, literally, exactly Otter's kind of place, what should be about as friendly a piece of real estate as you'd find in Idaho for this kind of governor.

Otter is now offering compromises, one of which was rejected by the House before its attempt at adjournment. We'd guess there will be more attempts at compromise as soon as they return. And this will go on until the House majority gets something it finds acceptable.

The House is tethered into the driver's seat.

Sounds of silence

This isn't a suggestion you'll often see in this space, but nevertheless: The executive and legislative branches in Idaho, if they want to adjourn the legislative session any time remotely soon, need to go behind closed doors and say and do practically nothing publicly.

The problem all sides now have is that they violated the first rule of negotiation: They have have given themselves no room for maneuver or compromise. The one advantage all sides - Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter, the Idaho Senate and the Idaho House - have had, is that they are governed by natural political allies. They have no particular need or desire to damage the other side. The disadvantage is that their respective bottom lines have become so clear that there's no longer any way (so far as we can see) that anyone can win, without someone taking a big fall. The positions have become so hardened that circumstances have become erratic - "bizarre," Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said, and he's right.

Meetings of legislators among themselves and with the governor may be the best hope for finding some way for the loser in this conflict to save as much face as possible. Imagine the governor and his sharpest critics in the legislature locked in a room for eight hours; you'd have to guess they'd come up with something.

But every public statement, every public vote or veto, draws the canyon all the deeper. This session of the Legislature, which has completed nearly all its business, is on track to become the longest ever, as of next week.

Allyn Dingel

Jeff Kropf

Allyn Dingel (left) with Daniel Eismann

Not every word approved by vote at the Idaho Legislature is necessarily apt, but these from Senate Concurrent Resolution 111 are: "his good humor, his prodigious memory of persons, times and events, and his unfailing courtesy, honesty and integrity.” Even the order fits well.

Allyn Dingel, an attorney and lobbyist - though that description seems somehow a little off - who died on Thursday, was a veteran of the Idaho Statehouse, an effective participant there and liked across the board. He was a Republican, but not entirely doctrinaire, just as - for an insurance industry advocate - he wasn't wholly doctrinaire about that business either. And he seemed to relish the fact that, by way of his son's marriage, being related to the Democratic Bilyeu family. He also relished the Bilyeus along with, it seemed, almost everyone he knew.

He was never elected to office though you suspect he could have been; he had the right skill set. He loved to talk, and not much was needed to prompt a great stemwinder of a story.

Dingel had a lot of stemwinders to share, and share them he did, and that's our primary memory of him. Over a span of half a century, he was in the middle of a lot of political events, and few of them seemed to escape his recollection. He enriched our understanding of the state that way. And he made the state a better placed in other ways too.

After-effects and Otter

When a few years back then-Governor Dirk Kempthorne battled with the Idaho Legislature and dragged it out to a record length, he seemed to emerge strengthened, and the legislature almost a bit chastened. That could still happen in this new squabble over transportation funding, which presently looks to extend the already second-longest-ever session out into May.

The prevailing view in Boise, though, seems to be that Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter isn't likely to get the best of it. That was view voiced across the spectrum and by a number of people who personally and/or philosophically like Otter. Mash their views, and you get a sense that he's picked the wrong battle at the wrong time, and that his legendary personal charm is failing him now.

The Idaho Statesman's Kevin Richert (in a post headlines "Why Butch Otter is losing the battle") offered this: "Otter is contriving a crisis. He has no other option. And he risks political backlash. He risks being seen as the guy who insists on raising taxes during a recession — and who insists on holding the Legislature captive, at a taxpayer cost of $30,000 a day."

Is there political subtext? Of course there is.

From Dennis Mansfield (who, it should be noted, years ago ran in a Republican primary against Otter): "I'm thinking that Governor Otter hoped for a whole heck of a better 'gig' than the one he got in 2006. It's like watching a photocopy of a photocopy of former Gov. Kempthorne's last couple of years in office...only earlier, isn't it? Ahh, the anguish.... Let it be known that I'm startin' to think that Butch positioned his old friend Brad Little as Lt. Gov, with a keen eye on a possible self-exit strategy for 2010...and the waters around him are being 'chummed'."

The question of whether Otter will seek a second term next year remains out. (An opt-out does feel a bit more likely now than, say, six months ago.)

Still. We asked one veteran Republican observer (who counts himself a long-time fan of Otter): Short of dropping out, is there political meaning if Otter loses this battle? He's highly unlikely to lose to a Democrat, right? The Republican agreed with that.

But what about a primary challenge? Suppose Otter got a challenge from a well-established, strong contender who could prospectively run a serious campaign - such as, to pull a name out of the air, House Majority Leader Mike Moyle. Could Otter be vulnerable? The Republican's take: Otter would probably win, but not definitely, and it could well be close.

In Idaho in recent years, few legislative battles have had much political impact in the elections that followed. This one just possibly might.

Trench warfare is joined

Ooo . . .kay. The last post, about the possibility of Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter doing some smackdown and drawing a hard line for the lawmakers - if he vetoes a stack of eight key budget bills - needs to be superseded. This morning, the vetoes were something he said he might do on Thursday. This afternoon, he did it - the bills are vetoed.

Legislative reaction seems to be as you might expect: They're not happy, and the operating majority in the House - which is the rampart against Otter's transportation request - sounds as if it is determined to hang in there. Which means, since there are no budget bills in operation, that both sides have locked into trench warfare.

Trench warfare is a matter of attrition, of patience, of holding out longer than the other guy. In this case, since the governor is a full timer who reports to the work every day whatever happens, and since the legislators are part-timers who have other work to do, the advantage seems to lie with the governor. That suggests that legislators are the ones to cave, except that they did that before, in the term of Governor Dirk Kempthorne, and they may loathe to let this become a pattern.

Do they have any options, any edge? That's unclear, but here's one thought (and don't count this as a prediction they'll try to do it).

The two houses of the legislature cannot adjourn, in effect, for more than three days at a time. But suppose they did that - meet in pro forma, quorum-satisfying, sessions briefly once every three days. They could keep on doing that for quite a while, especially since so many legislators live within an hour's drive or so of the statehouse. They could keep doing that for months.

In July, a new fiscal year begins, and agencies - all of them - will need an operating budget. Imagine a game of fiscal chicken running up to June 30 . . .

The mind boggles.

The fork in the outlet

Otter

Butch Otter

Title of this post refers, as viewers of "Lost" may recognize, is the nickname assigned by its producers to the upcoming season-ending big deal. It also may apply to the immediate situation at the Idaho Statehouse.

Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter allowed today as how he's frustrated by the legislature, and he has ample reason. (And this week's are far from his first frustrations.) As the Idaho Statesman pointed out, "On Thursday alone, various parts of the Legislature rejected some of his plans on transportation funding, and on spending federal stimulus money."

There is the possibility, albeit a thin one, that the legislature could wrap up business by the end of next week. Another week or even two would be a better bet. But they could be in session a lot longer, because Otter could keep them there. A key quote from the governor: "All you've got to do is look back, if you've got any historical memory. There's lots of things the governor can do."

You don't have to reach back especially far, either, just to 2003. That year, the legislature kept rejecting transportation plans offered by Governor Dirk Kempthorne (does this sound familiar?). Kempthorne couldn't force them to pass them. But he could veto budget bills, as he did in an eight-pack one memorable day, and budget resolution is the one significant thing the legislature has to do before leaving town. The two sides endured an angry standoff for weeks, until after 118 days on May 3, the legislators finally caved.

Otter could do something similar. Its not something anyone really wants. But his comments today leave no doubt: It's on the table. Message to legislators: Don't buy any non-refundable plane tickets any time soon.

Busy day

statehouse

The Idaho Legislature is back up to speed. With parameters set in the budget and tax discussion, lawmakers are rolling again. Today was an excellent day to get a sense of what's going on at the session.

And there's a good place to look for the rundown. Betsy Russell, who blogs (and, uh, writes news stories as well) from the Idaho Legislature for the Spokane Spokesman-Review, has 13 separate posts on mostly separate topics at the legislature today.

So what happened? Among the highlights:

The budget committee (the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee) [context] set the budget for the state Department of Education, approving money for a state data system.

It cut matching money for Idaho Public Television for translator stations.

It zeroed-out the Idaho Rural Partnership.

It zeroed-out the Idaho Women's Commission.

It turned down a proposal to study historic barns around the state.

The House Education Committee voted to permanently end state funding of school field trips.

A committee moved ahead with major changes to the state liquor license system.

The House passed, 51-17, a request that the federal government "cease and desist" invading the state's sovereignty. Specifics were not spelled out, which doesn't matter since the measure is a declaration only and has no practical effect.

A busy day at the Idaho Legislature. Best guess at present is another three to four weeks to go until adjournment.