BOISE — Idaho Republican leaders offered broad support Monday for the priorities outlined in Gov. Brad Little’s State of the State Address and budget recommendations.
However, House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said his caucus’s top priority for the 2021 session will be “resetting” the balance of power between the legislative and executive branch.
“I think that’s job one,” he said. “During times of crisis is when we need checks and balances the most.”
Reflecting the importance House and Senate Republicans place on this issue, Bedke said, they’ll begin introducing a package of bills as early as today.
The bills are designed to work in concert and “need to be passed together,” he said. They include things like limiting the governor’s emergency powers and spending authority, a constitutional amendment giving the Legislature the power to call itself back into session and a resolution to immediately rescind the current coronavirus emergency order.
“Let’s look at the lessons we learned over the last nine months and decide how to position the state better going forward,” Bedke said.
Beyond the balance of power issues, he said, Republican lawmakers found plenty to support in the governor’s fiscal 2022 budget proposal — which includes a record $450 million in one-time and ongoing tax relief, as well as more than $200 million in infrastructure investments.
There will likely be plenty of discussion about what form the tax relief should take, Bedke said, as well as what infrastructure projects should get priority. However, “it doesn’t take a lot of spinning” to find common ground between the governor and Legislature on those issues.
“We have a revenue surplus, and in the House that means we need to look at tax cuts,” he said. “We need to look at ways to get that money back to taxpayers, either as a straight-up tax cut or through investments in infrastructure.”
House and Senate Democrats, by contrast, were a bit more reserved in their response to the State of the State Address — particularly with regard to the idea that the state has any “surplus” revenue.
House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, for example, noted that Idaho is among the worst states in the nation for per-pupil school funding. It also has a “disastrous go-on rate, hundreds of bridges past their structural lifespan, thousands of high-risk kids on waiting lists to get into Head Start, because the state won’t fund it — and we’re one of only four states that doesn’t provide any public early childhood education.”
Given all that, she said, “you have to question whether ‘surplus’ is the appropriate word to use, or whether we should more accurately call it the systematic under-funding of infrastructure, education and other vital needs.”
Rubel, joined by Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said Democratic lawmakers this session will continue to support fair taxes, access to affordable health care, criminal justice reform, high-quality education and economic prosperity.
“The difficulties of the past year showed us exactly where the Legislature’s focus needs to be: Idaho’s working families,” Stennett said.
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