(Note: A news release from the governor’s office and responses from Democratic leaders are included here.)

Governor Brad Little emphasized his push for greater investments in literacy, teachers, and Idaho’s public education system during his State of the State and Budget Address.

“We have a constitutional and moral obligation to all our youngest citizens,” Governor Little said. “I subscribe to the view that it is better to prepare children today than to repair them later.”

Other highlights from the Governor’s speech include continued regulatory reform, grocery tax relief for Idaho families, responsible budgeting, investments in public safety and corrections, and making health care in Idaho more accessible and affordable for all Idahoans.

“I’m committed to working with the Legislature to invest in education, continue reducing regulatory burdens, and increase all Idahoans’ prosperity and quality of life. I want us to champion affordable health care, make Idaho safer, and promote healthy lands and waters. I want Idahoans to be confident in their state government,” Governor Little said.

Some of Governor Little’s budget and policy highlights include:

EDUCATION: Increased funds for literacy and teacher salaries; teacher training to promote school safety; enhanced higher education collaboration and the availability of a new cross-institution cybersecurity program; new career technical education facilities at community colleges; support for Idaho Job Corps at community colleges; and workforce development grants.

ZERO-BASED REGULATION: Required routine examination and streamlining of Idaho’s full administrative code moving forward; modernization of Idaho statutes; and simplifying licensure laws so individuals relocating to Idaho can start working in their profession more quickly and easily.

CONSERVATIVE BUDGET: Grocery tax relief for Idaho families; Governor’s budget cuts spending, leaves a surplus, bolsters rainy-day funds, and limits true General Fund spending growth to a conservative 3.75-percent; improved process for ensuring accurate economic forecasts; and renewed focus on transparency in Idaho budgeting.

HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: Medicaid Expansion fully funded with net-zero impact on General Fund; increased number of medical residents in Idaho to address shortage of physicians; new funds to combat opioid crisis; continued support of enhanced short-term plans for Idaho individuals and families priced out of the insurance market by Obamacare; and continued support of community recovery centers.

PUBLIC SAFETY: Investments in Connection and Intervention Stations and community reentry centers to lower taxpayer costs, reduce demand for prison beds, make Idaho communities safer, and help inmates lead productive lives following incarceration; and investments in Idaho State Police fleet, investigators, and dispatchers.

PROMOTING STRONG ECONOMY: New State Broadband Office within Commerce so all of Idaho can be better served with broadband connectivity; praise for passage of U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement to support Idaho farmers and producers; and close to $100 million to maintain and improve the state’s highway system.

ENVIRONMENT: New resources available to advance Shared Stewardship and the Good Neighbor Authority, to reduce fire risk, create jobs, and promote forest health; ongoing funding for wolf monitoring programs; new position at Office of Species Conservation and continuation of Idaho Roadless Commission to enhance state’s authority over federal lands in the state; continued support for new agriculture lab; and expanded trail maintenance for summer off-highway vehicles.

ENHANCING STATE GOVERNMENT: New State Employee Hotline where state employees can anonymously and securely raise concerns about potential fraud, waste, and abuse within state government; continued investments in IT Modernization to help protect citizen data; and a 2-percent merit-based Change in Employee Compensation to help retain Idaho’s hard-working permanent state employees.

A full list of Governor Little’s budget priorities are available here. The full text of his 2020 State of the State and Budget Address is here.

 

Response by Rep. Ilana Rubel, House Democratic Leader. In the last few weeks, Idaho Democrats have had leadership changes, but we are stronger than ever. The Idaho House and Senate Democrats are well prepared to advance Idaho values and uphold the rights of all Idahoans. I am grateful to have Senator Stennett’s wisdom and continued strong leadership in the Senate as I step into the role of House Minority Leader. I could not think of a more perfect way to honor the 100th anniversary of women’s voting rights than with two women in the Democratic Leader positions. It was the work of many strong women who came before us who made it possible for us to be in these positions today. We look forward to working closely with Governor Little and Republicans in the legislature to come up with bipartisan solutions to the greatest challenges facing our state.

            In the upcoming legislative session, Idaho Democrats will continue to uphold our highest priorities. High-quality schools, colleges, and universities must be available to every Idaho student. We need to build a workforce that will draw high-wage employers to the state. All Idahoans should be able to provide security for their families, which means that we need to be able to earn a living wage. Idaho Democrats champion the right of every Idaho to have access to quality, affordable healthcare. Our highest priorities are woven into every piece of legislation that we work on and will be at the forefront during the upcoming session.

Over the interim, our constituents have clearly expressed their concerns about the most pressing issues facing Idaho communities. Not surprisingly, Idaho voters agree with us. They want us to ensure quality educational opportunities for our children and protect their quality of life. During the months since we adjourned, Democratic legislators were instrumental in crafting interim committee recommendations addressing Medicaid Expansion, education, broadband, and property tax relief.

The Medicaid Expansion committee was given overwhelming evidence that Medicaid Expansion should be funded at the state level instead of slashing city and county budgets and risking damage to public services like fire and police. We will continue to advocate for state level funding, particularly in light of the cost uncertainties created by the majority party’s passage of Medicaid restrictions last session that could recreate an uninsured gap population. We are concerned about pushing any more unfunded mandates onto local governments.

The Education Task Force committee delivered clear recommendations as to how the K-12 education system can better empower Idaho’s children. One of their recommendations included all-day kindergarten, a proposal that Democrats have been fighting for since the days of Governor Cecil Andrus, and that we will continue to support. The Broadband Access interim committee stressed the importance of providing broadband to our rural communities and warned that, if we don’t act quickly, our rural communities will struggle to achieve economic prosperity. The Property Tax working group demonstrated the need to give property tax relief to Idahoans by fixing our existing tax laws. Our Democratic caucus will work to provide tax relief by restoring the indexed property tax exemption and updating the circuit breaker. We will also seek to reverse the disastrous trend of giving tax breaks to the wealthy while starving the state of adequate funding for education, infrastructure, and other essential services. We are concerned about the deep cuts to agency budgets that have been forced by previous reckless revenue cuts by majority party legislators. As the fastest growing state in the nation, and in a time of record national prosperity, it is hard to believe that Idaho’s agency resources are going backwards rather than forwards.  When you consider that the state has grown nearly 2% in the past year, the 3% agency cuts being proposed are essentially 5% cuts in light of the increased population that must be served with substantially diminished resources. These agency budgets were already very lean. We will be working this session to ensure that any cuts inflict the least possible harm on Idahoans.

After years of work on criminal justice reform in the legislature, I was delighted to hear that the Governor is taking steps to reduce high recidivism in Idaho. Our communities will thrive when we focus on stopping the revolving door of criminal justice. All Idahoans benefit when we provide opportunities for rehabilitation and reintegration into the community. Democrats will be working across the aisle to advance criminal justice reform legislation that offer strong synergies with the Governor’s proposals for our justice system.

The Democratic caucus is looking forward to supporting the work of the interim committees and advocating for the recommendations that have been presented by legislators, stakeholders, professionals, and community members. The Legislature must work together to represent the best interests of all Idahoans in our rapidly changing political, social, and economic environment. Through our collaboration and compromise, we can respect the will of all Idaho voters. I sincerely hope that we can collectively focus on improving Idahoans’ quality of life, and that this session does not take a dark and divisive turn into assaults on our bipartisan redistricting commission or our citizen ballot initiative process. As the new House Minority Leader, I am excited to continue to work across the aisle and across the rotunda to produce sound, thoughtful policies and forge new paths to improve the lives of Idahoans.

Response by Sen. Michelle Stennett, Senate Minority Leader. After years working alongside Representative Mat Erpelding, his absence is bittersweet. I wish him luck in his next venture and I cannot wait to see the contributions he will make to Idaho in his new capacity.

Representative Rubel and I have been legislative colleagues for many years and I am confident she will be a very accomplished House Minority Leader. She brings great energy and strategic intelligence to her new position which will be invaluable to the Democratic Caucus in the upcoming legislative session. Together, we are proud to serve the state as Democratic leadership determined to advocate for the best interests of all Idahoans.

In addition to supporting the recommendations from the legislative interim committees, we look forward to working with the Governor diagnosing and fixing the root causes threatening Idaho’s prosperity.

We are pleased to hear the Governor proposes to increase funding to all levels of education. Underfunded, our schools struggle to pay a competitive wage, attract teachers to their communities, and have adequately trained teachers in the classroom. Quality educators head to other states where they receive better wages and benefits for their background, education, and hard work. The Governor’s investment in literacy is paramount. Around seventy percent of Idaho industries recognize the importance of early learning which contributes to successful students and a productive workforce. Yet, only half of the legislature agrees. Investing in our children is a valuable investment in our future.

Idaho property taxpayers are deeply concerned about being priced out of their homes due to unreasonable increases in their property taxes. Removing the property tax index eliminated the protection that aids many Idahoans to stay in their homes. Idaho homeowners have seen their property taxes double and even triple in some cases and they are desperate for a solution. Last year, Idaho Democrats proposed reindexing the homeowners’ exemption but it was not given a hearing. Since then, legislators have gone home to their districts and heard from their constituents from across the state how important it was to further the property tax burden. The Idaho legislature now understands how important it is to take action on this issue. We are excited to work closely with the Governor to give Idahoans property tax relief. During the 2020 session, the Idaho legislature must make our tax code more fair and equitable.

The ill-conceived tax cuts from 2 years ago actually increased taxes for many Idahoans. Idaho’s economy did not remain as robust as anticipated, so the Governor requested 1% revenue cuts this year from all levels of government, potentially 2% cuts for next year, and 3% cuts from our agencies and departments this year. Further, the Governor seeks to increase the Change in Employment Compensation only 2%, 18% under market. We need to tread cautiously when we approach our tax laws given the current economic landscape.

We strive to achieve a successful session that secures policies that protect and promote the people we represent. Republicans and Democrats should be working together to examine the consequences of the changes that we have made to our laws and decide the best ways to advance Idaho values together.

Thank you again for coming and we look forward to the great work that will be done during the 2020 legislative session.