Idaho Legislature has solid start

January 30, 2014

The little engine that does in the first three months of every year is beginning to pick up steam. Rules review is wrapping up and legislation is starting to flow out of committees and onto the House and Senate reading calendars. I’ll touch on just a few of the many issues now in motion.

President Vailas and others from Idaho State were in town much of last week as they presented before JFAC and held other meetings. I have heard several very positive comments about the presentation given by Dr. Vailas. It’s obvious the respect around the state for ISU is on the uptick. The Bengals were out in force and a recent alumni reception was a huge success. Rep. Packer and I, along with House Speaker Scott Bedke and Senate Minority leader Michelle Stennett, had a chance to speak to the alumni board. They are such great ambassadors for ISU and we can all take pride in their efforts.

The education discussions are intensifying and I continue to feel pretty positive about progress being made this year. There are two key dynamics in play that will determine how far down the road we go to implement the recommendations of the governor’s task force; tax relief and rainy day funds. I have always been of the opinion that tax relief is something that needs to be on the table for discussion. I also am a fan of saving for a rainy day. The last few years taught us the value of that.

That said, I am convinced timing is critical. In my opinion we can ill afford to offer a maintenance type only budget to K-12 and higher education this year.

They have patiently waited their turn and I don’t intend to advocate for further tolerance. We have a chance to step up to the plate for education, still save some money, and who knows; maybe even have something left in the tank to entertain some reasonable tax relief policy. Others may disagree but that’s the batting order I favor.

Last week we also had a sobering presentation from the Department of Water Resources and the state water board in the Senate Ag committee. The dry winter we are experiencing comes on the heels of two extremely dry years. We’ve all heard of the perfect storm. Right now most of us connected to the importance of water would settle for any storm. And whether you think so or not, that includes most of us. Without enough water to meet our needs our economy faces serious consequences.

Stream flows are expected to drop below minimums at what is called the Murphy gauge. Because Idaho’s water law is first in time, first in right, a call for water could be made. If that call is deemed not to be a futile call, those with junior water rights will be forced to stop irrigation. This could idle many thousands of acres and pull up to a quarter million acre-feet from use in Southeast Idaho. Let’s all think snow. As always I appreciate your comments, calls, and emails.

Until next time.

Idaho State Journal 1/30/14