Idaho Examiner -
Idaho Rep. Tom Loertscher

Monday, February 20, 2006

House Highlights - Week Six 2006

By Tom Loertscher

Some things in life are just plain predictable. Some of the old timers in my neck of the woods used to say that if there was an east wind you could almost bet there would be a storm within the next three days. In the legislative process certain things are also predictable. One of those very predictable events happened this week. According to Health and Welfare the number of people who are smoking is on the decline. This is great news. But wait just a second, there’s more to this. The rest of the story is that in our recent wisdom we have been providing funding for a cancer registry for the state financed by a portion of the tobacco tax. So now we are short of revenue for the program and it looks like this year it will need a shot in the arm from the general fund. As has been predicted, if we accomplish our goal of smoking cessation, the money would go away and the programs would remain without a funding source. Former Representative Diana Richman predicted that we would at some time in the future be wanting to teach people to smoke because we need the money. In one of our meetings this week I said that we go through all of the motions wanting there to be no smoking but we really don’t mean it because we are so addicted to the revenue it brings in.

Property tax issues have been the hot topic for months now and those issues came to a head this week with about a half dozen measures passing the House in very short order. Long time observers have been saying since the votes were taken that never in our history have there been so many tax bills pass in the House in such a short period of time. Dragon slaying is a favorite pastime in the legislature and this is one that needs to be slain. As the sponsor indicated, there’s something for everyone to love and to hate in this package. My concern has always been the same; we never seem to look adequately at the spending side of taxation. There has been a pre-occupation with property values. That is one of the factors that drive property taxes upward. A bigger factor as I see it is what we have chosen to finance with property taxes. The debate will go on for some time yet as the bills all make their trip across the rotunda to the Senate. Anything could happen over there and it is very predictable that changes will be made.

Another less glamorous but nonetheless very important item is progressing through the House. The U.S. Supreme Court dealt a blow to private property rights last summer in declaring that private property could be condemned for the use of another private entity. For us in Idaho that is not only not acceptable but is just wrong. In response to that, legislation cleared the State Affairs Committee without a dissenting vote. You may not hear a lot about this but its impact to every Idahoan is very real.

While attending Lincoln Day events this month I think the most often asked question has been when will the legislative session end? Most years there is an easy way to answer that, the trick is to be able to tell if this is an ordinary year or not. The predictable part of the answer is that it usually takes about a month from the time budget setting starts by JFAC. That time having arrived it looks like that would get us home about March twentieth give or take a day or two. I’m not going to make a prediction here because I know better. There is still time for a wreck or two that along the way. And I have seen a few of those. Meanwhile there is still much heavy lifting around the House.

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