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For the week of January 17 through January 23, 2001

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 addresses.

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 budget trail.

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 cuts."

"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."

 

 

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