Little: 2023 legislative session was ‘painful’ but productive

Gov. Brad Little speaks with reporters Wednesday at a post-legislative session roundtable.

If you thought the 2023 legislative session started slow and ran long, you’re not alone.

The session was productive, Gov. Brad Little said Wednesday, but for weeks, Little and his staff were waiting on lawmakers to move on his legislative agenda.

“Overall, it seemed a little painful, as they always do,” Little said during a post-session roundtable with reporters.

But Little also rattled off several key accomplishments from the 88-day session, which adjourned April 6:

Idaho Launch. Little listed this postsecondary education incentives plan as his top priority for 2023 — and he said it will fundamentally change the way Idaho funds education beyond high school. Launch will allow high school graduates to use up to $8,000 on community college or job training.

Teacher salaries. After legislators agreed to put another $330 million a year into K-12 in September, Little came back in January with a proposal to put more than $145 million into teacher pay raises. He said the increases will help convince college students to pursue careers in the classroom, and help border communities compete for teachers — staving off a migration to states like Oregon and Washington. “We’re still a little under them (in salaries), but we are so much closer.”

Property tax relief. Even though Little vetoed the property tax bill — prompting the first successful veto override in Idaho in 16 years — the governor said the bill essentially met his targets for property tax relief. The bill eliminates the March school election date, over Little’s objections, which could make it more difficult for districts to pass bond issues or levies. But the bill also earmarks $120 million for districts to pay down bond issues and levies, and Little said this should help districts build new schools and replace aging ones.

The slow pace of the session — and the whirlwind of bills at the close of the session — didn’t just affect Little and his staff.

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee put off most of its biggest budget-setting until the end, finally crafting a series of K-12 spending bills on March 14. That tight timetable could create problems for districts if they plan to float levies in May, which will now be their earliest option on the election calendar.

Coming Thursday: Gov. Brad Little’s last move of the 2023 session was a controversial one. Idaho Education News takes an in-depth look at Little’s veto of a bill addressing “harmful materials” in school libraries — and the runup to his decision.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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