The Idaho Legislature’s joint budget committee made progress on one of the major unsettled budgets Thursday but two others — education budgets still awaiting a rewrite — were sidetracked.
Between the unfinished budgets and the Senate adjourning until Monday morning, the 2021 session is guaranteed to continue into next week.
The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee began Thursday by working on the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare budget. JFAC members approved adding language that would phase out about $34 million in federal coronavirus relief money at the end of the 2021 calendar year.
The money is intended to help child care providers stay in business and can be used to increase wages for employees. The new language phasing out the federal funding at the end of the year appears to be an effort to address concerns that led House Republicans to kill the initial version of the welfare budget April 6. At that time, conservatives questioned the $34 million increase in federal funding.
Rep. Colin Nash, D-Boise, asked why the state would phase the federal money out at the end of this year if federal guidelines allowed the state to use the money into 2023.
“I believe the intention is to try and not have a cliff when the money runs out,” Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee, said. Troy added that many policymakers think the state’s economy will be running strong in December and the federal relief funding won’t be necessary.
With the new language added to the budgets, the House could be poised to act on House Bill 369, the rewritten welfare budget, in the coming days.
Meanwhile, JFAC did not take up the higher education budget or the public school budget for teacher salaries as planned Thursday. Two of the legislators working on those budgets, Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, and Sen. Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville, attended a different hearing Thursday on a new education bill that came out of a debate on how educators can bring up and talk about social justice topics in classrooms.
Thursday was the first time JFAC has met this week.
The state is obligated to set a balanced budget and have it in place July 1, the first day of Idaho’s new fiscal year.
Idaho House approves income tax cut bill
The Idaho House of Representatives voted along party lines Thursday to pass a major income tax cut that had just been introduced a day earlier.
House Bill 380 would provide an ongoing tax cut of about $163 million by reducing the number of tax brackets from seven to five and reducing the top individual and corporate income tax rates down to 6.5%.
Finally, the bill would also provide $220 million in one-time income and sales tax rebates to 2020 personal income tax filers.
The rebate checks would be for $50 for each taxpayer and dependent, or the equivalent of 9% of the income tax paid, whichever amount is greater.
“It is a significant tax cut,” Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, said.
All 57 House Republicans who were on the floor Thursday voted for the tax cut.
“It’s simple, common-sense logic. The people who put the most money in… get the most money back,” Rep. Randy Armstrong, R-Inkom, said.
All 12 House Democrats voted against it, saying it was sending a massive amount of state revenue out the door in a lopsided way that benefited corporations and wealthy residents.
“I don’t even know that we have met the threshold requirement of a functioning society, frankly,” House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, said. “We have the worst funded schools in America, I don’t think we are at a point where we should be looking at refunding tax payments to the wealthiest in the state.”
House Bill 380 replaces House Bill 332, a similar previous version of the bill that was sent out for possible amendments by the Senate.
House Bill 380 heads next to the Idaho Senate for consideration.
Idaho Senate calls it a week
On Thursday afternoon, the Idaho Senate adjourned until Monday, skipping the normal Friday floor session.
Senate Majority Leader Kelly Anthon, R-Burley, said that although there is unfinished business, there is nothing the Senate can work on until the state budget comes together and the new education and tax bills that the House passed Thursday reach the Senate.
The Senate has been more productive than the House and nearly cleared its agenda. Meanwhile, the House still has 30 bills on its calendar for Friday, most of which are budget and education bills. Since returning from recess April 6, the House has killed three major budgets and been locked into a power struggle with Gov. Brad Little.
“I want to say thank you for your continued efforts to move the people of Idaho’s business along,” Anthon told fellow senators from the floor. “This body has worked very hard in the last several weeks to make sure we can continue to say we are doing everything we can to finish the people’s business and go home.”
The House is scheduled to convene at 8 a.m. Friday, but House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, has said it could be a short floor session.
Fridays at the Statehouse are often a light day so legislators from north Idaho and eastern Idaho can travel home to be with their families and constituents over the weekend.
Thursday was the 102nd day of the session, which is now the longest of the past 10 years. The longest session in state history ran for 118 days in 2003.