By DEVIN WEEKS
COEUR d’ALENE — Paula Marano held something in her hands as she stood to speak during a town hall meeting in the Coeur d'Alene Public Library on Saturday morning.
"I have two decks of cards, and it has to do with the gerrymandering that’s going on,” she said to Reps. Paul Amador and Jim Addis. "I’d hate to have you stack the deck."
Several attendees clapped as Marano walked toward the representatives and handed them the cards, which were physical representations of the concern some citizens have about recently proposed redistricting legislation that would add one member to the six-member commission that draws Idaho's districts every 10 years.
"If we don’t have a fair playing field when it comes to redistricting, the people are impacted. The chance to really dialogue, talk policy, concerns me a lot," she said. "The other concern is if you start filing lawsuits every time, that impacts the courts, and we already know the judiciary has a lot on their plate, with prisons and everything else.
"Having a hands-on tangible object — decks of cards — makes it a little more real and visible."
“I think, whether it’s a city council or a supreme court, there needs to be an odd-number committee so that you don’t have ties and use the courts," Addis said. "Having said that, our process has worked OK up until this point, is my understanding. I’d like to look at the legislation and see exactly what it does. I think it just makes it a 4 to 3, so I’m kind of torn on that.”
Redistricting, Medicaid expansion, natural resources and private lands came up in discussion during the town hall, which was focused on the annual budget process for the state of Idaho. Despite the wind and 12-degree cold, more than 30 people attended the session.
"I'm trying something new here," Amador said. "I hope it's useful where we walk through some of the state budget issues."
He said the budget takes an entire year to set.
"When you're spending billions of dollars, it should take some time," he said.
The legislators provided the statewide report with information about the general fund summary for fiscal year 2019, which ends in June, as well as collections and estimates, revenue and appropriations, funding requests and history of the general fund dating to 1998. According to the report, the FY2019 estimated ending balance is $17,260,300 (sine die, original forecast, year-end adjustments and supplemental requests) where the governor's recommendation January 2019 estimated ending balance is $97,647,500.
About two-thirds of the FY2019 general fund goes to education, 21.5 percent to health and human services and almost 10 percent to law and justice.
Jessica Mahuron of Coeur d'Alene asked Amador and Addis about what happens when the need arises for more income or less spending.
"What are some creative or innovative ways that you’re seeing among your colleagues to think about increasing our tax revenues so things do feel less stressed?" she asked them.
"I do feel like there must be some sort of relationship with education and also fostering economic development, because we know when a really good business comes into Idaho, they create high-quality jobs and everybody prospers, and we know when we have highly educated people, they themselves create opportunities and we all prosper," she continued. "So I just want to know if there’s anything that you know about, ideas that are circling around to increase our revenues."
"I’m glad you asked a really simple question," Amador answered with a smile.
On a more serious note, he said there are so many different things going on, he didn’t know where to start.
“Certainly, I view education as a critical component to investing in our future,” he said, leading into how education plays a critical role in maintaining an economy’s vitality.
"We know that if you get advanced training or a college degree, your likelihood of economic success is significantly higher, there’s all kinds of social benefits, you’re more likely to be happy and vote and all those different things. Your individual economic success means economic success for the coffers of the state of Idaho."
Income tax is the biggest contributor to that economic success, he said; the Department of Commerce is working on several projects to attract and grow business in the state. Locally, he said, Jobs Plus works on economic development for the region and North Idaho College and the technical campuses have promising innovative programs.
“We could talk about that for the entire year, about all the different things that are going on," Amador said. "It’s kind of an unlimited question."