Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Legislature enters week two

Jaquet, Pence offer look at early session events


By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer

District 25 lawmakers are continuing this week to get their bearings on the state's 58th legislative session.

So far, lawmakers in both legislative branches have submitted 21 bills for their peers' consideration. Major budget and water legislation, two of the issues predicted to get a lot of attention this winter, are still in the early legislative stages.

In his State of the State address on Monday, Jan. 10, Gov. Dirk Kempthorne proposed a $2.2 billion budget that includes "a conservative spending plan" that reflects his commitment that the temporary 1 percent sales tax increase adopted in 2003 will sunset this summer as planned. He also proposed a sweeping proposal to upgrade state highways in every region of the state.

House Minority Leader Wendy Jaquet said Kempthorne's address "was his best that I have heard so far."

"The speech was visionary for the state as well as being focused toward a legacy for his administration," she said.

Jaquet responded favorably to the governor's transportation and economic development initiatives. The governor's tax incentive proposal targets corporate headquarters sitting in Idaho. They would receive tax incentives or credits if they create 500 new jobs that pay $50,000 or more with benefits, build a headquarters worth $5 million, and do so within five years.

"I believe if we go forward with this concept, we need to build in strict accountability," Jaquet said. "It could create good paying jobs so our children would be able to stay in Idaho for employment, and (it) could generate good revenues for Idaho's future needs."

Jaquet continued to express concern that Kempthorne did not build a financial blueprint for two years, as he has in prior years.

Freshman Rep. Donna Pence, D-Gooding, said her first week working at the Idaho Capitol was exciting and challenging.

"The class of 22 new legislators has been adjusting to the demands created by having to sift through volumes of mail, learn new schedules, attend a myriad of receptions, luncheons and dinners, find our way to our meeting rooms, get the hang of committee work and actually work on new legislation," she said.

She added that Jaquet, Senate Minority Leader Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum, and other senior lawmakers have been helping her learn the ropes.

Pence was assigned to education, agriculture and judicial rules committees. In her first weekly legislative column, she chose to focus on education.

"One of the largest portions of the budget deals with education," she said, adding that the governor has chosen to fund education at $999 million, about $50 million less than Idaho State Superintendent of Public Instruction Marilyn Howard requested.

"Remediation for those not meeting No Child Left Behind standards was again left off the governor's list...The governor's budget recommendation increases discretionary funding but at less than half of the level that Howard requested," Pence said. "As a result, many districts will be forced to ask their patrons for higher property tax levies to meet the needs of educating their students."

Pence said she was pleased, on the other hand, that Kempthorne proposed $12.4 million to be spent on school technology upgrades.

"This funding is desperately needed to replace outdated equipment, to improve networking capacity and to ensure that districts have the technology required for the state's testing program," she said.




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