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Posts published in “Day: May 16, 2021”

Better than you think

hartgen

Choosing areas where the Idaho Legislature failed this year has been easy pickings for liberal columnists, editorial pundits and an assortment of academic vegetable professors. They’re comparing negatively it to the “great” Cecil Andrus years when Idaho brought in a new sales tax, as raising taxes is a very good thing.

Yet, despite the inordinate length of this session and the time wasted by right-wing rants and their windmill tilts, some real accomplishments stand out, although they won’t get any credit from lefties.

What, you say? How can a session that dragged on into May before simply running out of energy be anything but a failure, if not a disaster? Well, here are some important issues which yielded real if not complete results:

Income Tax Reduction: For the second time in four years, the Legislature passed a major income tax reduction, from 6.9 to 6.5 percent on all brackets. It also will rebate a portion of taxes paid in 2019 back to taxpayers. The total tax reduction is close to $400 million, about $160 million of which continues annually. Democrats all voted “no” on this reduction. Republicans voted “yes.” Whattch got in your wallet?

Property Tax Reduction: For the first time in years, the Legislature raised the homeowner’s exemption, from $100,000 to $125,000. That won’t help everyone, but it’s a start. Once again, Democrats voted “no.” The issue will merit further examination in 2022, but the ground has now been broken for more relief.

Roads and Bridges: The Legislature made a major policy shift this year in deciding to tap rapidly-growing online sale tax receipts to support major highway projects, estimated at a billion dollars. Sure, we’ll see construction delays, but the work is long overdue to meet Idaho’s growing vehicle traffic. A growing economy rolls on a good transportation system.

Wolves: The Legislature approved measures to reduce Idaho’s wolf population, now estimated at 1,500 animals, found everywhere North of the Snake River plain. The approved plan calls for a population of just 150 animals, a level reached long ago. Ecos and Democrats will howl, but bringing the wolf numbers back to plan makes a lot of sense, helps deer and elk herds and stems livestock losses.

Education Funding: After continuous posturing, hothead rightists finally signed off on education budgets that were close to Gov. Brad Little’s initial requests. K-12 funding was set with a small increase. Teacher pay steps were again approved and even universities got close to the $315 million requested. In a clear sign of “we’ve had enough,” funding for university “social justice” programs was reduced and state schools were given a clear prohibition against using public money in this way. Some absolutists wanted more cuts, but the legislators sent a clear message without undercutting the schools’ core missions, as some wanted to do.

Initiatives: Dems and liberals squawked and once-a-Republican Jim Jones railed and railed, but the Legislature did the right thing by tightening restrictions on initiative petitions. Most of the money behind the initiative “reform” movement is from out-of-state liberals and unions who had found ways around the previous rules. They’ll go to court, but their case is weak. Most states don’t allow initiative petitions at all, and Idaho’s has been circumvented by unscrupulous outsiders. Good move to tighten this up.

Executive Authority: After two failed veto overrides, the Legislature presented a watered-down version of limiting the governor’s executive authority, which passed both House and Senate. Gov. Little signed this version this past week, (IdahoPress, 5/11). While some clarity of language may have been warranted, rightist hotheads were left with little to show for months of delay and posturing. A constitutional amendment allowing the Legislature to call itself back into session will be on the November, 2022 ballot. Its prospects seem uncertain since barely 20 percent of Republicans supported the idea in a recent poll. (IdahoEdNews, 5/5).

Ethics Reform: You wouldn’t think it would be necessary to have a written rule prohibiting fraternization among legislators and Capitol staff. But the spectacle of a legislator hitting on female staff and interns shows some further prohibiting language may be warranted.

People in public trust positions are expected to exhibit high moral character as well as governing competence. The offending legislator, Aaron von Ehlinger, R-Lewiston, was forced to resign. Other female legislators who defended him as a “gentleman” displayed incredible blindness toward his toxic treatment of Capitol women. The case suggests more needs to be spelled out. That can and should happen.

Stephen Hartgen, Twin Falls, is a retired five-term Republican member of the Idaho House of Representatives, where he served as chairman of the Commerce & Human Resources Committee.  Previously, he was editor and publisher of The Times-News (1982-2005). He can be reached at Stephen_Hartgen@hotmail.com.

(photo/for Idaho Capitol Sun)