The 2016 Idaho State Legislature’s session has concluded. During this session we addressed over 580 pieces of legislation. This year’s session addressed a variety of issues, but the focus was once more on education and setting the budget. The economy has shown good growth, so there was money to restore more of the cuts that were made to government services. As I worked on the Joint Finance Appropriations Committee (JFAC), one of my priorities was to ensure the taxes of Idahoans are distributed in an efficient and effective manner.
This year, the state again balanced its budget, at $3,271,392,000, with the majority of these funds going toward education ($2.01 billion), health and human services ($704.5 million), and public safety ($325.1 million). I believe this amount of funding will provide the basic, needed services while providing a significant boost of 7.4% to K-12 education. High lights of the school budget include:
• Increasing state spending on education by $108.8 million over the current year.
• Fully funding the second year of the career ladder teacher salary law with $33.5 million.
• Boosting schools’ operational funding or discretionary spending by $31.2 million. This operational spending finally provides the per classroom spending of $25,696 which is the level from 2008-09. It is important to note, there has been an increase of over 1000 classrooms since 2008.
• Putting $5,000,000 in college and career counseling.
• Spending $16.4 million on teacher professional development.
• Paying $16.6 million for teacher leadership premiums that are designed to reward educators for mentoring or taking on hard-to-fill positions. This funding allows our high performing educators and staff to be rewarded for outstanding service.
• Increasing technology spending to $18,000,000 to provide the information in the classroom to enhance student learning.
Education was a major focus of this legislative session. As chairman of the Senate Education Committee, we continued to support legislation that improves the lives of students in Idaho. The goal is to help them prepare to actively participate in the workforce upon completion. The Career Technical education component was also a priority.
Another long term effort was made toward economic stability by increasing our state savings accounts, the current balances are approximately $366 million.
State employees were again provided a 3% raise in their salaries based on merit in an effort to retain and attract good employees
There was for a third year a focus on change in the approach Idaho takes concerning the reform of our criminal justice system. These changes should improve treatment, supervision, parole, and probation processes, especially for nonviolent offenders. There was also a continued focus on the public defender system to ensure it adequately serves the public.
The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare worked diligently to find a solution to the needs of those Idahoans who are struggling with health care. There was a slight increase in the number of participants in Medicaid. The department continues to work with the legislature to find ways to care for the disabled and impoverished while trying to prevent abuses of public funds.
Transportation funding saw a large increase in spending because of the legislation passed last session, you might remember that this was legislation that provided approximately $95 million per year to try and fill the $262 million needed to maintain and improve our roads and bridges. There was also approximately $56 million dollars taken from year end revenues that was earmarked for transportation.
As you know Idaho’s greatest natural resource is water. Significant legislation was addressed this year to protect, facilitate and promote water along with aquifer recharge. Protecting this resource and making it available for agriculture, industry and our citizens is something that needs constant and vigilant effort.
For a more detailed summary on the legislation considered and passed this year please go to the “sine die” report on the Idaho State Legislature page: http://legislature.idaho.gov/. On this website you will also find details about the current and all past legislative sessions and budget information.
I appreciate all of the emails, phone calls, and letters received throughout the session. Your input helps me understand the issues and how they impact us. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve District 30. If there are concerns or questions you have about this session please contact me. You can also keep in touch with me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you again for your support.