Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Smidgeon of good news amid bad for Idaho lawmakers

By their own estimation, Idaho's state lawmakers prepare for the 2011 legislative session with dread. The budget has them agonizing. Some estimates predict as much as a $300 million revenue shortfall on a budget of some $2.3 billion.

Trying to make ends meet through cuts in spending that was cut sharply last legislative session will be so painful, Senate Finance Committee Chair Dean Cameron is quoted as saying, that some members of his committee will leave the panel because "they no longer have the stomach for the cuts we'll see." However, there are practical steps legislators can take.

First, Republican House Speaker Lawerence Denney acknowledges legislators must review more than $1.6 billion in tax exemptions that could yield new revenues. Some are designed to increase business in Idaho and should be preserved. However, others allow some interests to avoid paying their fair share and should be ended.

Second, Republican and Democratic leaders must police legislation members are preparing. Dozens of bills thrown into the hopper each year amount to grandstanding for the hometown folks or promoting an ideology with utterly no redeeming grace. That sort of nonsense should be derailed to spare the costs and time of committee hearings.

Third, political cultists representing the "government-is-the-problem-not-the-solution" mindset should check their weary theories at the Capitol door. Government has huge responsibilities for solving problems and serving the public interest—roads, public education, health care for the needy, law enforcement, courts and corrections, consumer protection, parks and recreation, and more. Even paying state legislators. Every creative mechanism must be used to keep essential public services healthy and functioning.

Fourth, avoid funding for Quixotic crusades against the federal government, such as funds for lawsuits against Washington or for attempts to repeal the 17th Amendment (election of senators by voters, rather than legislatures).

There's also some good news to be had.

The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis lists Idaho among a handful of states showing more robust economic rebounds than others. Idaho has moved up from 50th to 10th position in percent change in personal income with a 0.9 percent improvement since 2009. The Idaho Department of Commerce reports a record number of companies inquiring about relocating here or expanding.

These tidbits suggest a surge of restored tax revenues, perhaps more liberal bank loans and credit for business, and arrival of new workers buying or renting homes and becoming new consumers.

Come the legislative session, maybe the agony will be eased with a little ecstasy.

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