Idaho Gov. Brad Little said Friday he is continuing to negotiate with legislators around his top 2023 priorities, including the Idaho Launch grant program for high school graduates, pay raises for teachers, property tax reduction and increased funding for law enforcement salaries.
Through the first 47 days in session with a new-look Idaho Legislature that experienced significant turnover after 2022, Little said he has only signed five bills and there weren’t any more waiting for him as of Thursday night.
That’s a little bit of a slow start, although it is expected with so many new legislators and committee chairpersons.
For instance, after six weeks in session in 2019, Little had signed 16 bills into law, according to the Legislative Services Office. Through the first six weeks of the 2020 session, Little had signed 10 bills.
Friday marked the end of the seventh week of the 2023 legislative session, and Little had only signed five bills.
“The big things that are pending right now are all education, particularly our Launch proposal,” Little said during a breakfast with the press corps Friday morning. “We’re cautiously optimistic, but we are having robust discussions with our Senate friends about what’s going to take place there.”
Little proposed the $80 million Idaho Launch grant program in his Jan. 8 State of the State address. Little called for providing one-time grants in the amount of $8,500 for graduates of Idaho high schools (or the home school equivalent) to put toward an Idaho-based college or a career training program recognized by the Idaho Workforce Development Fund. The $80 million in funding for the grants would come from the Sept. 1 special session bill that created the in-demand careers fund paid for with sales tax collections.
House Bill 24, which would enact the Idaho Launch proposal, narrowly passed the Idaho House of Representatives 36-34 on Feb. 6 and is awaiting consideration in the Idaho Senate.
Little and Lt. Gov. Scott Bedke have been touring the state to build support for the Idaho Launch proposal. This month, Little met with students in Meridian, Rigby and Twin Falls to discuss the program, which could provide funding for college or for career-technical education programs like welding, auto repair, plumbing, lineman’s college.
When asked if there was horse-trading going on in relation to his Idaho Launch program and an education savings account proposal that would allow Idaho families with students outside of the public school system to spend state tax dollars for a variety of educational purposes — including tuition for private, religious schools, tutoring, counseling and more — Little said “there is always horse-trading going on.”
Little was also asked whether he would consider vetoing the education savings account bill, Senate Bill 1038, which calls for spending $45 million to establish the education savings accounts.
“I have said consistently anything that is significantly detrimental to the long term funding of public schools, I am going to have an issue with,” Little told reporters.
Little also used his State of the State address to call for spending $145 million to increase starting teacher pay to $47,477 per year, which would put Idaho in the top 10 states for starting teacher pay nationally based on National Education Association data from the 2020-21 school year. Little told reporters Friday the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee will set the K-12 public school budgets last this year.
“So it is going to be awhile before we get to that point,” Little said.
March 24 — one month away — is the Idaho Legislature’s nonbinding target date to adjourn the session for the year. But with JFAC and the rest of the Idaho Legislature getting off to a slow start, legislators may need additional time to finish setting each of the 108 different state budgets this year.
Most issues from Idaho’s 2023 legislative session are still unresolved
During the hour-long meeting with reporters, Little weighed in on several proposals that are under consideration by the Idaho Legislature.
When it comes to a new bill introduced Thursday that would greatly limit who could request an absentee ballot, Little pointed out that some Idaho precincts only offer absentee voting due to the rural nature of where some residents live. According to the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office, 129,210 Idahoans voted using an absentee ballot during the 2022 general election. Absentee ballots and early voting combined to represent 31.7% of all ballots cast during the 2022 election, the Secretary of State’s Office reported.
“I think absentee voting, particularly in rural Idaho, is so important. I’m not all that excited about it,” Little said when asked whether he would support the new bill.
Little also addressed property tax reductions, which were a major theme from his State of the State address. Little called for earmarking $120 million to offset property taxes. The House Revenue and Taxation Committee introduced three property tax bills on Feb. 2. But so far, major property tax legislation hasn’t cleared the Idaho Legislature and advanced to Little’s desk. Little said Friday there is a lot of talk going on around the Idaho State Capitol about those bills, but he noted major property tax legislation often isn’t settled until the end of a legislative session.
Little was also asked about bills that would remove student IDs as an acceptable form of identification for voting in Idaho elections. On Feb. 20, the Idaho House voted along party lines, 59-11, to pass House Bill 124, which would prohibit the use of student IDs for voting.
If the Idaho Legislature is going to prohibit student IDs, the state needs to come up with an easy alternative to provide young people or anyone else who doesn’t have a driver’s license, Little said.
“It ought to be easy to vote but hard to cheat,” Little said, quoting former Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa.
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