Idaho Examiner -
Idaho Rep. Tom Loertscher

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

House Highlights - Week Five 2006

By Tom Loertscher

C.S. Lewis in the “Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe” said something along the lines that sometimes you can’t find things where they once were especially when we look for them but we might find them elsewhere, “Keep your eyes open.” In the legislature it really does help to keep your eyes open and your ears too.

This was “County At The Capitol” week which brought commissioners and other elected county officials from all over the state together. This year had a little different twist in their efforts from other years. They split up into teams and were assigned specific topics and legislators. They were everywhere, and I have to admit that they were better organized and prepared to discuss the issues with us. It’s always good to have people from home around these marbled halls and to get their perspectives. I’ve decided that you can learn a lot from these public servants if you keep your eyes and ears open. I for one appreciate their efforts and the time I was able to spend with them this year was time well spent.

This week was also the final week for the minor committees in the House to introduce legislation and it was quite the printing frenzy with almost every bill being printed by the committees. Every agenda was filled every day with the latest and greatest ideas for new laws. It is the age old good news bad news thing. The bad news is that there were so many bills introduced, and the good news is that not all of them will become law. It seems like this year that there were a lot of things put off until the very last minute and that will mean some very heavy committee work in the coming weeks. Some of these bills will need a good going over with eyes wide open.

The House Revenue and Taxation Committee became the great killing fields with many of the property tax bills that were introduced meeting their demise. Among the survivors was one of the Homeowner’s Exemption increase bills. One of the casualties was the removal of the school maintenance and operation levy. I was keeping my eyes open as one of those committee meetings had just concluded and discovered that a small group was huddled in a corner on the House floor. My curiosity got the better of me so I went over to see what was going on. Who could they get to vote for what and what was the best way to get property tax reform? Don’t panic, it was not one of those dreaded closed meetings that you may have heard about, or even close to it for that matter. Just a handful of legislators exchanging ideas, and had the press been present I am sure the discussion would have been the same. It reminded me a lot of some meetings I participated in some time ago over the same issue. I think our best work happens when ideas flow freely around the table and all present are fully engaged and focused.

We did have a Republican Caucus meeting. It was interesting to read of this “secret meeting” in the papers the next day and how evil it was to be having it. Now a caucus meeting can be a great relief valve for the steam to blow. What happened in this one was no big secret nor was it a venting session. The caucus spokesman is supposed to report to the media what was discussed and I have always respected that in the past and will continue to do so. However, this was nothing more than looking at a few budget numbers and was strictly informational in nature. It could have been held in the capitol rotunda. If you look at a page of numbers with your eyes open you just might see a red flag or two, and in my case that is what happened. The number that leapt from the page to my eyes was the Medicaid number published there. It is staggering to say the least, forty two million dollars of new money for fiscal 2007. Remember that word I keep using, unsustainable? That is a bigger increase than for any other budget by far.

On my drives back and forth to the capitol each weekend I get a lot of time to think. In reality I don’t need a caucus meeting to do my venting. My vehicle is the victim in that regard. I’ve been listening to the book “1776” on these drives and earlier in the session I listened to a book on President Lincoln. If there is a common thread with these two writings it is the raw courage these great men had to do what was required of them. They did so with their eyes wide open. They did find what they were looking for too. I hope we’re that fortunate this session.

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