2019 will be a pivotal year for Idaho state government. We have a new governor, a new lieutenant governor and a new treasurer. Nearly 25 percent of the Legislature is new, and we have one relatively new Supreme Court justice. Our tax revenues are down and our funding requests are up. This is all before approaching the topic of Medicaid expansion, and the other controversial issues that inevitably arise.
A new leader of the executive branch usually means new agency directors, and Governor Brad Little has followed in the footsteps of his predecessors in this regard. While some directors have been retained, there are many new directors of prominent departments such as Health & Welfare and Labor. This means that many of the existing policies could change to align with the new administration and new relationships between the executive and legislative branches will need to be forged. There will also undoubtedly be a new economic policy which will be fully revealed during the State of the State address.
The change in the legislature means changes to our committees and leadership positions. Due to retirement, switching legislative bodies, or a loss in the primary elections, both the House and Senate were left with multiple committee Chairman positions to fill, and many new members. The House, will have eight new Chairmen overall, and the Senate will have two. In addition to committee leadership changes, the number of new legislators on committees in the House will be larger than normal because we have 20 new members this term (14 R, 6 D). The Senate has six new members (5 R, 1 D) to spread throughout its committees. Every election also brings the opportunity for changes in leadership in both legislative bodies. The House has a new assistant majority leader and majority caucus chairman, while the Senate made no changes to its leadership positions.
The largest issue looming over the legislature as we begin the 2019 Session is funding. Uninformed assumptions can be made about our state budget, but serving on JFAC gives a more complete perspective of the state and how it is funded. This allows legislators to make informed decisions about budgets, as well as policy, which aids the effort to properly govern a diverse state. For months legislators have been informed that our income tax revenues are falling short of projected levels. With both corporate and sales tax revenues strong, the assumption is that the shortfall in income tax revenues is due to incorrect withholding numbers on W-4 forms. The hope is that these numbers will balance themselves when taxes are due in April, but there is no guarantee. Coupled with the potential revenue shortfall, is a rather large requested increase in funding from our State agencies.
A normal year would have an approximately 5-percent increase in state funding, depending on the economic projections and revenues received. For 2020, our maintenance budget (what we are required statutorily to fund) alone is over 5 percent, and the agency requests add up to over 10 percent even without the enormous burden of Medicaid expansion. We can also expect an economic slowdown in late 2019 to early 2020, if not an outright decline.
Idaho has certainly seen more difficult times, perhaps even times of greater change in state government, and continued to thrive. Most of those involved are sincere, dedicated public servants who are seeking to accurately represent their constituents, and prepare Idaho for a strong future. The 2019 session will have its challenges, but I am confident Idaho will continue to be one of the best places in America to live, raise a family, and have a business.
I thank you for allowing me to provide District 1 with honest, responsible representation in Boise. It is truly an honor.
Sage Dixon is a Republican who serves in Idaho’s House of Representatives.