Budget, bills keeping state’s legislators busy

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As I write this on Friday evening, March 10, the Idaho Legislature has just completed its ninth week of this year’s legislative session. A total of 678 pieces of legislation have been prepared of which 482 have been introduced for consideration. Of those, 60 bills have passed both the Senate and the House and were sent to the governor who has signed 58 of them and is reviewing the other two. The Senate has passed another 69 bills that are awaiting action in the House and the House has passed 116 bills that are awaiting action in the Senate. This level of activity at this time of the session is a bit less than the same time of the session last year.

The target date set by House and Senate leadership for adjournment is still March 24, a short two weeks away. The budget committee, which I co-chair with my House counterpart, finished setting the state budget on time today (Friday, March 10) and now our focus turns to presenting those budget proposals (in bill form) to our colleagues on the floors of the House and Senate. The budget is comprised of just over 100 separate bills so the workload continues, it just moves from the committee into the full legislature. It is the only duty we are required to do each year: set and balance the state government’s budget and adjourn and go home. The budget committee trimmed the governor’s requested budget by about $16 million. At the same time, we continued to plug some of the holes in our budgets caused by the economic downturn restoring funding for services that Idaho’s citizens expect from their tax dollars.

We included in the Department of Agriculture’s budget an historic amount of General Fund money (the state’s general fund is comprised of mostly income taxes and sales taxes) for continuation and expansion of the boat inspection stations to work to try to keep aquatic invasive species like quagga mussels out of our lakes, streams, and water intakes. The fees generated from the sale of boat stickers is simply not enough to fund the needed coverage of high traffic routes into the state by travelers bringing their boats into our areas.

Another issue we were able to address through the budget process is to use $52 million of one-time money to try to help communities repair the damage from our harsh winter weather and the coming spring break up season. $52 million is a lot of money but it will be a drop in the bucket of the ultimate need when the snow is gone. I’m glad we at the state legislature were able to help put our tax dollars to good use in this way.

These are just a couple of highlights of the budgets we set. All of them can be found on the legislative web page at this internet address: www.legislature.idaho.gov

Although the legislative session is starting to wind down, there is still a huge amount of work left including legislation to reduce taxes, remove the sales tax on food, find more money for roads and many more issues. As mentioned above you can keep tabs on the work being done at the Legislature’s website: legislature.idaho.gov

You can see all the bills, the meeting agendas, listen to committee hearings, watch and listen to the work on the Senate and House Floors, email your legislators — or every legislator if you wish to. I encourage you to continue to stay tuned and to stay in touch. I can be contacted via our Information Center as follows: Toll free 1-800-626-0471 or via email at idleginfo@lso.idaho.gov. I can be reached directly at skeough@senate.idaho.gov

Please continue to let me know your thoughts, concerns, and positions on the bills of interest to you as the session moves forward. I have appreciated hearing from you and look forward to continuing to hear from you. I’m honored to be of service to the people of our area in the Idaho State Senate. Thank you.

Shawn Keough represents Bonner and Boundary counties in District 1 in the Idaho Senate.

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