Kempthorne's proposed tax cut praised
Blaine County lawmakers enthusiastic, too
By Greg Stahl
Express Staff Writer and the Associated Press
State lawmakers last week said Gov. Dirk
Kempthorne's call for $140 million in tax cuts helped him reassert the
kind of leadership missing from his previous State of the State and budget
Kempthorne unveiled Idahoís first $2
billion budget in his budget address Jan. 10, which would spread a $330
million surplus to almost every community in the state. Kempthorne
delivered his State of the State Address Jan. 8.
"Itís a chicken in every pot,
something for everyone," House Minority Leader Wendy Jaquet,
D-Ketchum, said of the governorís proposed budget.
Senate Minority Leader Clint Stennett,
D-Ketchum, shared Jaquetís enthusiasm.
"There were good feelings all around
the Statehouse this week," he wrote in a legislative summary Friday.
"I felt [the governorís] State of the State Address was
well-crafted and gets us headed in the right direction."
The outline of Kempthorne's spending
priorities drew broad praise from nearly all legislators, to whom the
governor in the past has given great discretion in blazing their own
Members of the huge GOP majority and the
Democratic minority said they liked what they heard, from dramatically
increasing substance abuse programs in the prison system to creating a new
way of funding school building safety improvements.
Kempthorne's plan was rife with detail, and
legislators said they noticed. They said they appreciated his willingness
to bear the burden of deciding what to do with the $2 billion budget and
$330 million surplus.
The largest allocation in the budget is
education. At $1.3 billion, education costs are 64 percent of the general
fund budget, and include an 8.8 percent increase in higher education
funding and a 30 percent increase for public schools.
Lawmakers particularly praised the governorís
proposed $140 million tax cut.
"The fact that he stepped out on the
tax cut, I think that kind of gets him back square with the group up
here,'' House Speaker Bruce Newcomb, R-Burley, said.
"He didn't leave too much for us to
develop,'' Senate President Pro Tem Robert Geddes of Soda Springs said.
"The tax cut is a little more than I probably expected, but itís in
the ballpark of what we need to do."
Senate Local Government and Taxation
Committee Chairman Jerry Thorne of Nampa said he "totally"
supports Kempthorneís proposal.
But Geddes said he would rather see the
figures reversed from the governorís proposed $40 million-per-year
ongoing and $100 million one-time tax cut proposals, with as much money as
possible given back to taxpayers on a continuing basis beyond one-time
rebates and temporary rate reductions.
Stennett, however, said the tax relief
package is "the right blend of permanent and temporary tax
"The most important components are tax
incentives for Idaho business owners, farmers and ranchers," Stennett
continued. "Iím optimistic that we can stimulate economic activity
in rural areas if the plan is approved."
Geddes also questioned the scale of
Kempthorne's plan for increasing substance abuse treatment from 30 percent
to 80 percent of Idaho's prison population. Geddes said the focus instead
should be on better identification of those inmates most likely to benefit
and targeting treatment efforts on them.
Blaine Countyís representatives said they
thoroughly support the prison plan.
"I truly appreciate him taking the
emphasis away from locking more criminals behind bars and focusing on
efforts to rehabilitate our prison inmates," Stennett said.
"With a reported 87 percent of our inmates having a substance abuse
problem, the Legislature needs to get a handle on this problem if we are
going to control escalating prison costs."
Environmentalists, meanwhile, said they
were disappointed Kempthorne missed the opportunity to set a progressive
agenda but instead declared his intention to continue court fights over
national public lands policy and endangered species.
"Unfortunately he'd rather fight
losing political agendas rather than help improve environmental policies
that can frame a brighter rural economy in these changing times,"
said John McCarthy of the Idaho Conservation League.
But, as Jaquet wrote in a Friday wrap-up,
"thereís lots more to happen before all this gets resolved."