I'm sure many Idahoans are wondering just how long this session will last. This session which was supposed to be expedited, which began in dark of winter and now has languished into the time that crocus are wilted and tulips are working on flowers inside their tough green skins.
I can say this. The length of a session is largely about ego. Who will give first? There are definite power dynamics and struggle between conservative House leadership and the moderate Senate. Then there are the dynamics between the governor and the legislature. This is an election year so the fear of raising taxes creates a tension over not fully funding substance abuse programs and failing to address shortfalls in transportation funding. Shifts in funding and taxes seem to be fair game as we have moved items like the state police off transportation budgets on to the general fund (the sales and income tax dollars which fund all our health, safety and social service programs.) But we seem to have moved beyond real debates over how to raise even just the $50 million or so for paying for the debt service on our GARVEE highway project loans. We've even abandon talk of raising the beer and wine taxes for the first time in many decades to provide more substance abuse funding to avoid the need for even more costly prison expansion and backlogs in those who need treatment for meth, heroin or alcohol addiction.
With all legislative elections falling every two years, you seen the willingness to think ahead vanish every two years.
So here we are diving into April we know we have an even more difficult year ahead for revenue, where tax dollars coming in may, because of the economy, force us to cut essential services. We are with S1447 already on the verge of making this year's budget balance on the backs of state retirees, cutting their allowance for supplemental health coverage and leaving them at the whims of private insurance companies who can raise retirees rates at will, leaving many services uncovered and prescription drug coverage sliding into the donut hole.
When will it end? Not necessarily next week, but probably. It all depends on whether House leadership digs in on their big business version of personal property tax breaks. It depends on whether the Governor who came in a day late with with half baked transportation solutions bothers to come up with something sensible and balanced.
We as democrats have proposed solutions, most of which are no longer on the table, most were never given hearings, because after all this is an election year and who can allow democrats to solve problems. But we know that. We shape the process in other ways, through amendments and through working with the Senate. Someday, maybe not so long from now we will be in the majority. We will gain the 16 seats we need in the House to set the committee agendas and choose to spend wisely and with forethought to save taxpayer dollars by not always waiting until things bleed and fall into expensive crises of meth addiction, over flowing prisons, dirty air and water and limping transit alternatives. Someday. But for this year we push and run back and forth to the Senate whispering mutual plots and plans. I've worn a pair of shoes out so the nails have come up through the soles and the rain comes in.
When will it end? Hopefully after a bill or two is finally changed and another killed. So, soon, while we have half a chance of being sure no more damage to the future is done.