Thursday, February 24, 2011

Second Luna Bill Passes State Senate 20-15

Posted By on Thu, Feb 24, 2011 at 3:09 PM

It didn't take much longer for the second of Tom Luna's three bills to pass through the State Senate.

Again, by a 20-15 vote, Republicans opted to support Senate Bill 1110, institute a new merit-pay system for Idaho teachers. The measure would require $38 million in funding in fiscal year 2013, but the revenue would come from a third bill from Luna, still stuck in committee. That measure, the most controversial of the three, would increase class size while cutting nearly 1,000 teaching positions.

Again, eight Republican senators joined seven Democrats in opposing the second bill.

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First Luna Reform Bill Passes Senate 20-15

Posted By on Thu, Feb 24, 2011 at 3:06 PM

The first of Tom Luna's controversial three-pronged sweeps of Idaho classrooms has passed through the Idaho Senate on a vote 20-15. Among other things, Senate Bill 1108—which guts teacher contract rights—would phase out tenure, eliminate seniority as a factor in layoffs and eliminate early retirement incentive programs.

Three hours of spirited debate included some opposition from both sides of the aisle.

"I'm concerned how mean-spirited this bill seems to be," said Democratic Sen. Michelle Stennett of Ketchum.

"I reject the idea that we have to do it today," said Republican Sen. Tim Corder of Mountain Home.

But in the end, a Republican majority won over.

"This bill is about starting over," said Republican Sen. Jim Hammond of Coeur d'Alene. "It's about building a new paradigm for instruction."

Republican Sens. John Andreason, Joyce Broadsword, Dean Cameron, Tim Corder, Denton Darrington, Shawn Keough, Joe Stegner and John Tippets joined seven Democrats in a losing effort. All 20 votes for the measure were from Republicans.

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Chairman of House Tax Committee Will Sponsor Cigarette Tax

Posted By on Thu, Feb 24, 2011 at 2:44 PM

Blackfoot Republican Rep. Dennis Lake

Republican Rep. Dennis Lake, chairman of the House Committee on Revenue and Taxation, confirmed today that he will sponsor a bill in favor of increasing Idaho's sales tax on tobacco but that it is far from ready. Lake said, if approved, the revenue generated by a proposed increase of $1.25 per cigarette pack would go into a dedicated fund for Medicaid.

“Essentially all of it—95 percent of it,” Rep Lake said before the Tobacco Tax Increase Legislative Summit.

Lake described the bill it as a “moving target.”

“If the bill were brought to the house today it probably would not pass,” said Lake.

Summit attendees included health-care professionals and business owners who would be affected by the proposed increase.

Melinda Turnbull, who works with the developmentally disabled, told Citydesk that she was disappointed that more lawmakers were not at the summit.

“It seems like the majority of the legislators see Idaho as a budget and as money, whereas Idaho is the people too," said Turnbull. "And I don’t think a lot of them see that.” said Turnbull.

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How Obama's DOMA Decision Affects Idaho

Posted By on Thu, Feb 24, 2011 at 12:28 PM

Calling it an "historic position," Idaho scholars and activists cheered the Obama administration's move to no longer defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

In Wednesday's announcement, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called the act unconstitutional by denying gays and lesbians the right to marry.

David Adler, director of the McClure Center for Public Policy Research at the University of Idaho, told Citydesk the change would carry a great deal of influence in the courts.

Continue reading »

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Governor's Budget Cut by Only 1.9 Percent

Posted By on Thu, Feb 24, 2011 at 10:22 AM

Idaho's budget writers have begun what is expected to be a long, controversial process to craft a spending plan for fiscal year 2012. First up this morning was the officer of the governor.

And while most legislators have talked about sweeping cuts to education and Health and Welfare, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee opted to only slice 1.9 percent in total funds for Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's office.

"We are starting to impact the ability for us to provide good government," said Republican Sen. Dean Cameron, JFAC co-chairman.

The bottom line? JFAC cut approximately $18,700 from the governor's office. Also on today's agenda are reviews of the budgets for the state treasurer's office and the office of the attorney general.

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Weather Delays Mega-loads; Opponents File New Petition

Posted By on Thu, Feb 24, 2011 at 9:13 AM

The second of four ConocoPhillips mega-loads was expected to be in Montana by now. Exxon/Mobile was expected to send a test load of its own across U.S. Highway 12 by now. But mother nature had other plans.

Weather has delayed the Conoco rig for five nights, stranding the shipment just outside of Kooskia in north central Idaho. The forecast calls for more snow tonight and tomorrow. Meanwhile, Exxon's test load has been delayed until at least March 7. While Conoco has been granted permission by the Idaho Transportation Department to send four giant shipments over to its Billings, Mont., refinery, Exxon is hoping to send more than 200 of its own loads up to the Kearl Oil Sands project in Alberta, Canada.

ExxonMobil Mega-loads at Port of Lewiston
  • ExxonMobil Mega-loads at Port of Lewiston

Opponents of the mega-loads have filed a formal petition with ITD, requesting a contested case hearing. Intervenors want to take a bit of a different tack with the Exxon loads.

"Exxon is actually reducing their loads," said Janice Inghram, one of the opponents.

In the last few weeks, it has been learned that at least 60 Exxon shipments have been "broken down" into a smaller size to be sent on an alternate route up through northern Washington, across Idaho's panhandle into Montana and up to Alberta.

The intervenors' petition was delivered to ITD Wednesday. Transportation department attorneys are expected to review the request today.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

House Speaker: Require Tribes to Charge Tax on Cigarettes

Posted By on Wed, Feb 23, 2011 at 4:27 PM

While the U.S. Constitution stipulates that Native American tribes be recognized as sovereign entities, Idaho House Speaker Lawerence Denney wants to require tribes to charge sales tax to any non-tribe member buying cigarettes.

Denney's measure was introduced today, the latest in a series of moves that could see Idaho sales tax on a pack of cigarettes jump from .57 to $1.25. The Idaho Council on Indian Affairs took up the issue this morning in a special meeting at the state Capitol. But tribes have asked for additional time to consider the proposal, asking for it to be tabled until March 7.

Advocates for a higher cigarette tax, including the Idaho Oral Health Alliance, are sponsoring a legislative summit Thursday at Boise's Grove Hotel. Among the speakers, Republican Rep. Dennis Lake, chairman of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee.

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Tom Luna's Education Reform Plan Dissed by 17-Year-Old

Posted By on Wed, Feb 23, 2011 at 12:59 PM

Last week, 18-year-old Brayden Morgan, an American Falls high school student,challenged Tom Luna to debate his education reform plan. Luna's office has been silent on the challenge. But judging by this video of another teenager, Johnny Saunders, ripping Luna to shreds at Monday's rally, it seems like there's good reason for him to stay mum.

[ Video is no longer available. ]

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Plans for Proposed Sherman Hollow Go Before ACHD Tonight

Posted By on Wed, Feb 23, 2011 at 10:41 AM

Some residents of Boise's Foothills are expected to show their displeasure this week and next week at a couple of public hearings regarding plans to build a new development in the small canyon above Sherman Street.

Before developers can proceed, they would need a green light from the Ada County Highway District since Sherman Street is already considered a narrow passage into the canyon. ACHD will meet on the issue tonight. Next Monday, Boise's Planning and Zoning Commission takes up the plans for the 27-home development, which would be called Sherman Hollow.

This isn't the first attempt to build in the canyon. A similar plan stalled in 2008 when ACHD nixed the idea.

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Council on Indian Affairs Takes Up Debate on Cigarette Tax

Posted By on Wed, Feb 23, 2011 at 8:37 AM

The debate over the possibility of a significant bump in the cigarette tax moves to the front burner today. The Idaho Council on Indian Affairs is expected to take up the discussion, which includes a plan to increase the tax on a pack of smokes from 57 cents to $1.25. Such an increase would be expected to generate nearly $50 million, the proposed shortfall for Health and Welfare's Medicaid programs.

Idaho's Native American reservations are not required to uphold the tax but lawmakers are eager to get the tribes on board, because a bump in price could cause a dramatic disparity between the price of cigarettes sold on and off reservations.

According to the American Lung Association, Idaho's current cigarette tax generates approximately $47 million in revenue.

So why wouldn't a 73-cent 68-cent bump raise more than $50 million? Because the increase is also expected to cut down the amount of cigarettes sold in Idaho.

CORRECTION: The above revenue figure of $47 million is from fiscal year 2008. In fiscal year 2010, Idaho's current cigarette tax rate of 57 cents per pack generated $39.7.
According to the American Lung Association: "a $1.25 increase would bring in an additional $48.2 million in revenue, with an added $2.9 million generated by a proposed tax increase on all other tobacco products, even accounting for an expected reduction smoking rates, particularly among youth."

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