LEGISLATIVE ISSUES BRIEF
Note: We polled on this issues brief in late December, 2008
and early January, 2009. For the results of the poll, click
Thank you for taking the time to rate the issues facing our
state. Below you will find short descriptions of 25 of the most important
specific issues likely to come before the Legislature. You will also find
a list of ten general policy areas. We ask that you rate how important it
is for us to develop full briefing materials on each specific legislative
issue and how important each general policy area is. We will choose the issues
that we will develop policy briefs on according to your ratings.
We developed the list of 25 legislative issues by inviting input from the
Governor, 12 legislative leaders, and seven individuals who are either members
of the press or are policy experts in the state. The legislative issues are
listed in order from the issue most to least frequently identified by these
Note that you need to login in order to open the questionnaire where you rate
the importance of each issue. You can login using the box in the upper left
corner of this page. If you've forgotten your username or password, CLICK
HERE for a reminder e-mail.
Once you login, the questions will appear on the right side of your screen.
After you answer the questions and hit the submit button at the bottom of
the questionnaire, you should get a message in red letters at the top confirming
that we got your answers. You can come back to the questionnaire and change
your answers as much as you like until the poll closes. The poll will close
at 9:00 am on Wednesday, January 7. We have been invited to announce our results
at the Associated Press Legislative Preview on January 8.
As you will see, the dominant theme this year is the severe economic downturn
and the significantly lower state revenues that have resulted. Most expect
that these circumstances will make it unlikely that many issues other than
the budget and transportation funding will get much attention. Each of the
20 individuals we interviewed identified these two issues as likely to come
before the Legislature this session. The next most frequently mentioned issue,
local option taxing, is seen by most as part of the transportation funding
issue and was identified by seven (35%) of the individuals we interviewed.
The rest of the legislative issues in our top 25 this year were identified
by six (30%) or fewer of the 20 people we interviewed, a stark contrast to
the results from our interviews in the last four years.
Five of the 25 legislative issues that were nominated, including transportation
funding, we have chosen to brief in previous years so you will not be asked
to rate these issues. The already chosen issues identified by the 20 individuals
we interviewed are:
Transportation Funding (20 out of 20 interviewed identified
this as an issue, 100%)
This is the second year in a row that funding for transportation infrastructure
has been nominated by everyone we surveyed. Costs for road construction and
maintenance have been rising. So have the total number of vehicle miles driven
in the state meaning more wear and tear on our road and highways. But transportation
funding has been flat. The Idaho Department of Transportation (IDT) and local
governments project that they will fall short of keeping up even with basic
maintenance of Idaho's roads and highways over the next several years, let
alone complete new projects that are needed even though the Legislature passed
the GARVEE bond funding mechanism a few years ago. Because the Governor has
made this his top priority, everyone expects it to get significant attention.
Because addressing this issue requires significant new revenue, most likely
from increased fuel taxes, car registration fees, and other sources, many
expect little will actually happen given the economic circumstances. We
chose this issue last year and are currently preparing our brief on it.
Local Option Taxing Authority (7 of 20, 35%)
Local governments, particularly cities, counties, and highway districts, have
been asking for local option taxing authority. The subject of considerable
debate last session, this would give local government the authority to propose
to voters in that jurisdiction a sales tax of 1 cent or less for specified
purposes. The sales tax would not go into effect unless approved by voters.
It has been challenging to find agreement in the Legislature on key terms
for this authority such as how high a threshold of voter approval should be
required and whether there should be a constitutional amendment to provide
this authority. Because local option taxing authority is most
often discussed in the context of providing funding for local transportation
needs, we are including this topic in the transportation brief we are currently
Primary Elections (6 of 20, 30%)
The Idaho Republican Party has sued the State of Idaho in federal court seeking
to have our open primary system declared unconstitutional. The party has adopted
a rule that only Republicans can vote in their primary. Oral arguments in
the case are scheduled for February 18. Most knowledgeable legal observers
expect the court to strike down the open primary and then direct the state
to implement a different process that is constitutional. Judge Winmill has
indicated that he hopes to make a decision soon enough in the session for
the Legislature to act if that is necessary. We briefed and polled
on this issue in 2006. Most observers expect that The Common
Interest’s proposal for a modified open primary in which registered
members of parties must vote in their party’s primary and independents
vote in the primary of their choice will be passed in some form if the open
primary is struck down.
Water (4 of 20, 20%)
A number of important water issues exist in the state. This session the particular
aspects of this issue most likely to get attention are a plan to manage the
Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer and proposals to study to the state’s aquifers.
We chose this issue last year but have not yet briefed it. As
was true last year, it is unclear how much will actually happen this year.
Overcrowded Prisons (3 of 20, 15%)
Idaho continues to face challenges with the overcrowding of its prisons. We
briefed and polled on this issue last year and will continue to advocate the
positions that resulted from our process. Given the budget situation this
year, it is unlikely significant legislative action will happen this year
on most aspects of this issue. We will, however, be actively pursuing this
session our proposal to raise the beer and wine tax to provide dedicated funding
for substance abuse treatment. Because the pressure on general fund dollars
will be pronounced this year, it may be an opportune time to raise the beer
and wine tax to relieve the general fund of that burden.
And now, here are the candidates for legislative issues this
1. Budget (20 out of 20 interviewed identified this as an
The severe economic downturn we are currently experiencing has resulted in
state revenue that is dramatically less than it was projected to be. The Governor
has already ordered state agencies to cut back 4% of their budgets and to
submit plans for 2% more in hold backs. Economic projections indicate that
the revenue picture may be even bleaker in the coming year. Three main options
are available to manage the reduced revenue. First, the state can tap into
"rainy day" funds established to help weather economic times like
these. Second, the state can cut spending. Third, the state can raise taxes.
While the state has more than $300 million in rainy day funds, many believe
that is insufficient to sustain government spending at current levels through
the economic downturn. One question then becomes how much to draw on these
funds this session and how much should be held in reserve for the following
year or two. To the extent that the rainy day funds don't sustain current
levels of spending, another question is how much to cut spending and/or raise
taxes. Many argue that because many government services are needed all the
more in economically difficult times, cutting services is problematic. Many
also argue, however, that increasing taxes is particularly burdensome and
economically counterproductive at a time when taxpayers are already having
a difficult time making ends meet. There are few attractive options in economic
times like these. Each of the 20 people we interviewed not only identified
this as an issue, they indicated they expected this to be far and away the
dominate issue of the session.
2. Teacher Evaluation (tie, 6 of 20, 30%)
Last year State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna proposed a program
that would reward teacher performance with bonus pay. It was the subject of
considerable debate and ultimately failed last session. A task force revisited
the issue this year. Two bills will likely be proposed this session. One bill
would address issues of how to consistently and validly evaluate teacher performance.
The second bill would provide bonus pay tied to teacher performance so evaluated.
Given this year's budget constraints, many expect that teacher evaluation
may get serious consideration but that bonus pay will not.
3. Energy (tie, 6 of 20, 30%)
The Legislature adopted a new energy plan last session and the Governor created
a new Office of Energy Resources shortly after that. The plan recognizes challenges
Idaho faces in maintaining an adequate supply of electricity at what has been
some of the most affordable rates in the nation. In particular, a number of
pressures make it likely that the low costs of generating electricity from
hydroelectric power and from coal will increase. These are the two chief sources
of electricity in Idaho. Other electric energy concerns include transmission
issues. Various proposals may come before the Legislature this year to deal
with these issues, particularly proposals emphasizing ways to conserve more
energy and rely more on renewable energy.
4. Childcare and Daycare Licensing (tie, 5 of 20, 25%)
Childcare and daycare licensing bills similar to those that have been introduced
in past years and defeated will likely be proposed again. They would require
more child-care providers to undergo background checks, safety inspections
and first-aid training.
5. Election Integrity (tie, 5 of 20, 25%)
Several legislators are concerned about the integrity of the 2008 election.
In Ada County, officials sent absentee ballot request forms to every registered
voter and a large proportion of voters exercised this option. The Legislature
rejected a vote-by-mail proposal brought by the county clerks in 2006 and
supported by The Common Interest largely because of ballot security concerns.
Some of those legislators are now concerned that absentee ballots are being
used to circumvent the Legislature’s decision. They are concerned that
many of the newly registered voters, including those that voted absentee,
registered with false information and voted more than once. Accordingly, proposals
to restrict absentee balloting or to modify Idaho’s same-day voter registration
process may be proposed.
6. Election Consolidation (tie, 4 of 20, 20%)
A proposal will likely come before the Legislature to consolidate elections
to fewer dates. Currently, elections for jurisdictions such as school districts
and fire districts can be held on a wide range of dates other than the regular
primary and general election dates in even years and the non-partisan city
elections in odd years. Voter turnout for elections in these other jurisdictions
is extremely low.
7. Early Childhood Education (tie, 4 of 20, 20%)
Currently, Idaho as a state does not provide education prior to Kindergarten.
Citing research on positive effects of early childhood education and the fact
that 39 other states have state-funded early childhood education, supporters
will likely propose a bill again that would provide optional pre-Kindergarten
education in Idaho. Opponents who have defeated this measure in past sessions
may bring their own bill this year. Opponents of school-conducted early childhood
education argue that young children are best cared for and taught in the home.
Accordingly, they may propose a bill that would pay parents part of the savings
the state would realize if parents did not send their children home from Kindergarten.
8. Government Ethics (tie, 4 of 20, 20%)
Proposals to raise the ethical requirements in government will likely be brought
forward this session. For example, one measure would increase the financial
disclosure requirements for registered lobbyists. Another proposal would require
certain kinds of financial disclosure for public officials and candidates.
Currently, although 47 other states and the federal government require public
officials and candidates to file personal financial statements, Idaho does
not. Another proposal comes from several examples in Idaho in recent years
of individuals leaving government and taking jobs, often at higher pay, lobbying
the branch of government or agency they had just been working for. The bill
would prohibit individuals from such lobbying for one year after leaving the
government's employment. A majority of states and the federal government have
such "revolving door" laws requiring a one or two year “cooling
9. Health Care Accessibility and Affordability (tie, 3 of
Rising health care costs that were already putting increasing financial pressure
on individuals, families, businesses, and government are even more challenging
during this severe economic downturn. Many are suggesting that the state needs
to address this problem. While there are interesting conceptual ideas being
floated, most of them will require significantly more detailed development.
Most observers don't expect much substantive progress on this issue in this
10. Mental Health Treatment (tie, 3 of 20, 15%)
There have been growing concerns that state provisions for mental health needs
are inadequate. Proposals to address these concerns may come forward, though
most think that little of significance will happen in a year of such tight
11. Medical Education (tie, 3 of 20, 15%)
One aspect of the health care challenge in Idaho is fewer doctors per capita
than in other states. To address this, Governor Otter and others have suggested
that Idaho should establish its own medical school. Others have suggested
that the more cost-effective way to get more doctors in Idaho is to expand
residency training programs here. One or more medical education proposals
along these lines are likely to come before the Legislature this year though
few expect them to get much traction given declining state revenues.
12. Midwives and Naturopaths (tie, 3 of 20, 15%)
Proposals are likely to again come forward that deal with state licensing
and/or regulation of midwives and those who practice naturopathic medicine.
13. Grocery Taxes (tie, 3 of 20, 15%)
An increase in the program providing an income tax credit to compensate senior
citizens and lower income families for sales taxes paid on groceries was passed
last year. It called for a phasing in of the increase over several years unless
we faced a severe economic downturn. Governor Otter and others suggest that
the phase in should continue, particularly because senior citizens and low
income families will have a tougher time paying for groceries in the current
economic climate. Others argue that we can’t afford the increase right
now and that they should be postponed.
14. Personal Property Tax (tie, 3 of 20, 15%)
Property tax in Idaho is assessed not only on real commercial property like
land and buildings, but also on "personal property." This includes
property not directly involved in production like furniture, office equipment,
and computers. It is complicated to comply with state law on this count and
difficult for the state to enforce compliance. Consequently, compliance rates
on this tax are low.
The business lobby pursued exempting all personal property from property tax
last session. The compromise that passed exempted the first $100,000 in personal
property from tax. The law provides for the exemption to go into effect at
the beginning of 2009 provided that state general fund receipts exceeded the
previous year’s receipts by 5%. Since that did not happen this year,
the exemption will go into effect in the next year in which general fund receipts
do exceed the previous year’s by 5%. The business lobby will again pursue
exempting all personal property from property tax. Given the tight budgets,
few think that proposal will pass this session.
15. Reducing Property Tax Assessments (tie, 2 of 20, 10%)
With the bursting of the real estate bubble, some are suggesting measures
that would require county tax assessors to lower property tax valuations more
quickly than would otherwise be the case.
16. Fish & Game License Fee Increases (tie, 2 of 20,
The Idaho Fish & Game Department is proposing increases in the price of
17. Constitutional Amendment for Local Government Bonding
(tie, 2 of 20, 10%)
The recent decision by the Idaho Supreme Court in the Fraser case has significantly
curtailed what had been local government practice for bonding for certain
projects. Some are proposing an amendment to the Idaho Constitution to address
18. State Employee Compensation (tie, 2 of 20, 10%)
The Governor may again pursue an effort to put more of state employees’
overall compensation into salary and less into benefits.
19. State Worker Retiree Benefits (tie, 2 of 20, 10%)
There have been concerns in the past about whether the state can meet its
full obligations to retired state employees. With the downturn in the stock
market in which those funds are invested, these concerns have been heightened.
Some measures may be proposed to address this though significant new investment
will be difficult given declining revenues.
20. Tax Breaks (1 of 20, 5%)
There are many who believe that Idaho has granted too many
tax breaks that benefit particular groups but that are not in the public interest.
Proposals to address some of these tax breaks or to address them more comprehensively
may be proposed this session, though most expect these efforts not to go very
In addition to questions about particular policy areas in which
those we surveyed think specific legislation may be proposed, the questionnaire
includes questions about how important you think, in general, each of the
following 10 broad policy areas are:
Jobs, wages, and the economy
Transportation and Other Public Infrastructure
Social Issues (e.g. gay marriage and abortion)