Wednesday, January 2, 2008

House minority leader readies for 2008 session

Energy, sales-price disclosure, local-option taxing top Jaquet?s agenda

Express Staff Writer

Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, right, confers with state Sen. Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum, last year. Photo by Mountain Express

Idaho lawmakers are gearing up for a year without their Capitol.

On Monday, Jan. 7, the Idaho Legislature will convene at Boise State University for state-of-the-state and budget addresses from Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter. And when legislative deliberations begin, they will commence in the Ada County Courthouse while the Statehouse undergoes a $120 million remodel.

House Minority Leader Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, said on Saturday that she is excited about several bills this winter. She added, however, that the state must remain fiscally conservative.

"I'm going to be really concerned about making sure we're fiscally responsible this session," Jaquet said. "Our sales tax is at 6 percent. If our revenues tank this next year and we have to cut programs the following year or if we have to raise the sales tax or the income tax, I think that's going to be really difficult."

Jaquet represents Idaho Legislative District 25, which includes Blaine, Camas, Lincoln and Gooding counties. Senate Minority Leader Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum, and Rep. Donna Pence, D-Gooding, also represent the district.

"I think we have to be really conservative this session," Jaquet said.

Of the legislation she said she intends to partner on or introduce, Jaquet said she is most excited about three energy-related bills, a bill requiring sales-price disclosure for residential properties and another that would establish local-option taxing authority for Idaho's cities and counties in regard to transportation.

The first of the three energy-related bills would establish a committee to work on greenhouse gas emissions. Last year, Jaquet introduced a climate-change bill that didn't make it out of committee because, she said, it had the words "global warming" in it.

"There's more and more evidence all the time, and in a state like ours where we're so heavily dependent on agriculture—even if some of those people in the Legislature don't believe in climate change, they should do this because it's the right thing to do," Jaquet said. "We should all want to reduce our carbon footprint."

Another of Jaquet's projects involves siting requirements for coal-fired and nuclear power plants. The bill would create an Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, which would be comprised of representatives of eight existing state departments, as well as representatives from any communities within a 50-mile radius of a proposed plant.

"The group will make a recommendation to planning and zoning," she said. "This achieves that balance between the locals still wanting to make their own decisions and having that information to make good decisions."

It would also require a project developer to front $150,000 in order to be considered.

"The reason I think this is important is that we've been talking about statewide authority, but the state doesn't always get to the locals," Jaquet said. "We have to have some kind of siting legislation in the state."

The third energy-related bill Jaquet will push involves diversifying the state's renewable energy portfolio. The bill, patterned after a Nevada bill, would require the Idaho Public Utilities Commission to buy 15 percent of its energy from renewable sources—like fuel cells, low-impact hydro, wind, geothermal or solar, by 2020.

Of particular interest to areas like Blaine County is legislation on which Jaquet is partnering with north Idaho Republicans. The bill would require sales-price disclosure on residential properties. As it stands, assessors in Idaho establish property values without the benefit of actual sales prices.

Blaine County Assessor Valdi Pace has said repeatedly that disclosure would make the system more equitable.

"It's getting in trouble again," Jaquet said. "One of the reasons it might pass this time is because several of the 44 counties are talking about passing it locally."

Kootenai and Bonner counties, in particular, are considering passing such disclosure laws, but the state has historically held tight reigns. Jaquet said she has met with a group of lawmakers and stakeholders since the 2007 session and believes the revised bill will be more palatable for her colleagues.

"I think, finally, other counties had what we (Blaine County) had, and that was these rising prices, and the assessor didn't have the information to make a good assessment," Jaquet said, adding that she always had a sneaking suspicion that northern Blaine County residents as an example had not been paying their fair share of property taxes.

"I thought it was an issue of fairness," she said.

The other bill Jaquet is excited about would create local-option taxing authority to fund transportation infrastructure and transit. A similar transit-oriented bill failed last year by about three votes, she said.

"By broadening the bill to highways and bridges, we might be able to get it through the Legislature," she said. "I brought this bill years ago. It got 18 votes in the House."

Last year, a Boise transportation group hired a lobbyist to help study the issue and came to similar conclusions.

"They have data that show people would support something like this," Jaquet said. "It's exciting that we finally get to this. The thing about broadening it to transportation is that people in our county might be excited about building things for transit that we currently don't have funded because of GARVEE (federal bonds that have proved complicated)."

As team leader for Idaho's minority of Democrats in the House, Jaquet said she is eager to dig into the winter session. For nearly two hours she discussed issues ranging from education reforms to raising penalties for dog fighting in Idaho from a misdemeanor to a felony. Idaho and Wyoming are the only states in the nation that qualify the crime as a misdemeanor.

And, as for the Statehouse, ground was broken in April for the 30-month, $120 million remodeling and expansion of the 100-year-old Capitol, including construction of two underground wings.

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