By Idaho Congressman Mark Sauter
Happy New Year and I hope all is well with you and your families. As one of your District #1 representatives, it’s an honor to go back to Boise to ensure our voice is heard for state governance. The number one priority and duty of the Legislature is to establish and pass a balanced state budget. Governor Little and his staff have been reviewing current conditions and operations since the Legislature recessed last April and have spent considerable time building their recommendations.
Next week, before the session starts on January 8, there will be several economic and financial presentations in the Capitol. These opportunities for District representatives (like me) are very informative and serve as a foundation for upcoming decision making.
The Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee (JFAC) is made up of 10 Representatives each from the House and Senate. This 20-member group’s primary duty is to review the recommended budgets of the individual state departments, listen to the presentations of such and then to develop recommendations for approval by the full House of Representatives and the Senate.
The other work of the Legislature is that of policy making. Each year legislators, the governor and state staff draft bills for the session to address shortfalls of current policy, changes to conditions in our state or forecasted problems. Cutting regulations also happens during this process.
The following are some of the issues and conditions that I believe will have an influence on the upcoming session:
• Tax policy is always an issue. Many of our residents have experienced a reduction in their property taxes this fall. Those changes came from the work of the Legislature last session. Unlike last year, it doesn’t appear a large budget surplus is available for tax cuts or investment in state infrastructure. It’s anticipated there will be new ideas about our state property tax policy. Averaging the assessments over a three to five year span, indexing the homeowners exemption for inflation, and/or capping the amount a tax can increase are all subjects of discussion.
• Funding education takes a substantial amount of the state budget. Our state constitution directs the state to do so. Last year the Legislature considerably increased the K-12 funding and improved a program that assisted graduating high school seniors into career technical education (Launch). The Legislature will most likely be faced with votes to continue these important efforts.
• School facilities are also a state-wide issue. Our three school districts all need help. While they have been able to pass some of their Maintenance and Operations (M&O) levies, they have not been as successful passing school bonds (facility improvements). I’m told addressing our school facilities will be a priority this year. This money could be dedicated to building new schools, replacing obsolete/dilapidated buildings, or improving existing school facilities. I will continue to support funding for our schools. No doubt, there will be disagreements.
•Community healthcare is an integral part of the state budget. Medicare and Medicaid spending keep our hospitals, pharmacies and healthcare providers funded. I understand there are several bills being drafted to change how our state provides for our healthcare programs and for policy issues. I’m unaware of the content but I’m very interested in the substance and impacts, as our a busy District relies upon it. More to come as this evolves.
It’s difficult to know what lies ahead before the Legislative session begins. I will continue to write articles to keep our residents informed. If you have questions, comments, or thoughts for District #1 or for state governance, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
See you around town this weekend. Cheers, and here’s to a good 2024!