Little off to a good start, legislators say

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    Mendive

COEUR d’ALENE — Kootenai County legislators supported many of the proposals in new Idaho Gov. Brad Little’s State of the State speech Monday.

The Gem State’s 33rd governor told state legislators in Boise that while he was grateful for the accomplishments of Idaho’s past, his sight was set on Idaho’s future.

“My friends, if we create an environment that brings about economic prosperity, if we continue to invest and modernize education, if we do what we can to make healthcare accessible and affordable, if we invest in our infrastructure, if we protect our natural resources, and if we assure citizen confidence in government, we will keep our best and brightest here in Idaho,” Little said.

Rep. Paul Amador said he was “very pleased” with Little’s address to the Legislature.

“He made it very clear that education will be his No. 1 priority during his time in office, focusing on improving teacher salaries, literacy investment, and developing a new long-range five-year blueprint for education,” Amador said.

Rep. John Green said the new governor did a pretty good job in laying out his agenda. The speech left room for improvement, however.

“I would have liked to hear more about his thinking on tax reform issues, rather than just addressing budget increases that are going to be difficult to fund if we continue with the same tired old tax system.”

Rep. Ron Mendive said two of Little’s agenda items that stood out to him were “the repeal of the grocery tax and his plan to issue an executive order for state agencies to repeal two regulations for every one they want to implement. I support both.”

The Republican state legislators all said they looked forward to working with Little during the legislative session.

Both Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra and the Idaho Education Association offered praise Monday for Little’s emphasis on additional funding for public education.

“As Gov. Little pointed out, Idaho’s economy is strong, so now is the time to invest in programs that will help us keep pace with the growth our state is enjoying,” said IEA President Kari Overall. “That certainly includes a substantial investment in a public school system that was severely impacted by the recession and remains near the bottom of the nation in per-pupil funding.”

“In light of lagging income tax revenue and predictions of a slowing economy, Gov. Little courageously set a high bar for funding education, ensuring it remains a top priority,” Ybarra said.

“Gov. Little also submitted a fiscally responsible budget that will provide new funding opportunities without putting the state in an untenable financial situation,” Amador said.

During the Democratic response to the speech, House Democratic Leader Rep. Mat Erpelding said his caucus’s No. 1 priority for the 2019 legislative session is to implement Medicaid expansion. Little said Monday he would support the measure. However, Reclaim Idaho co-founder Luke Mayville offered caution about Little’s approach to Medicaid expansion.

“In his State of the State address, Gov. Little said that our Medicaid safety net needs ‘springs’ that incentivize people to work and to become self-reliant,” Mayville said. “The governor’s comment leaves the door open to possible ‘work requirements’ or other modifications to Medicaid expansion.”

Green said that Little should not default to Mayville’s position quite yet.

“I think it is a bit premature to throw in the towel on this issue just yet. There is ongoing litigation with regard to the constitutionality of the referendum and the practical considerations for funding what may end up a bottomless pit of taxpayer misery.”

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