Lawmakers in Boise will be wrapping up their second week of work Friday, with the hope of concluding on time for a short, 60-day session.

    Every seat in the state Senate and House of Representatives will be up for re-election this fall, and the primary for legislative races is May 17.

    But before legislators head out the door and onto the campaign trail, they’ll have a slew of issues to contend with, and education funding is chief among them.

    Gov. Butch Otter made that a central focus of his State of the State address. He called for $10.7 million in funding for a literacy program for K-3 students struggling to meet reading proficiency, $38 million for raising some beginning teachers’ salaries and $30 million in operating funding for school districts, restoring levels of state funding to before the 2007 to 2009 economic recession.

    Overall, it would be a 7.9-percent increase in state funding for the public school system in Idaho.

    “From reading proficiency to mastering concepts, and from our community colleges to our universities, our emphasis must be on going the extra mile to prepare students to succeed in a complex and competitive global economy,” Otter said in the address.

    Heather Crocker, spokeswoman for the Blaine County School District, said the extra funding for teacher salaries wouldn’t have as much effect here when compared to other school districts in Idaho. That’s because Blaine County relies more on local levy and property tax dollars.

    She said Otter’s proposal, if enacted by the Legislature, could supply about $500,000 total to boost to local teachers’ salaries.

    The governor’s budget, of course, is only a proposal. It will be up to the Legislature to determine what ends up in the final budget.

    Budget writers should have some more money to spend this year—tax revenue collections for next year’s budget are forecast to be 5 percent above the current year. Fiscal 2017 starts July 1 and total revenue is forecast to be $3.34 billion.

    Last fall, the Joint Finance Appropriations Committee predicted an estimated $100 million budget surplus once the current fiscal year wraps up in June.

    Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, wrote in a newsletter last week that Otter’s spending proposals on operating funds were a good step. However, she said it didn’t touch on the addition of 16,000 more students, spending power eroded by inflation, four-day school weeks or local taxpayers’ stepping up to provide more operating funds via supplemental levies.

    Still, she applauded the consensus it received from Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra, the State Board of Education and the Idaho Education Association, which is the state teachers’ union.

    “Investment in education, including professional [and] technical training and higher education, pays off with a skilled workforce,” Stennett wrote. “Only with a qualified workforce can we attract businesses to Idaho that pay living wages and offer incentives to keep young people from seeking better lives elsewhere.”

    Local elected officials will be tracking two issues with pertinence to Blaine County—legislation to expand liquor licenses throughout Idaho and a potential rewrite of the state’s urban renewal laws.

    In December, the Ketchum City Council voted to support a proposal that would allow restaurants in resort towns in Idaho to get special liquor licenses.

    The proposal hasn’t been introduced as legislation, and the cutoff for lawmakers to introduce most bills in the Senate is Friday. The deadline for the House is Jan. 29. After those deadlines lapse, bills can only be introduced by committees.

    The Legislature has convened an interim committee to examine possible changes to urban renewal law in Idaho.

    That’s something the Ketchum Urban Renewal Agency has been tracking. Ryan Armbruster, an attorney who works with the KURA, gave an update to the efforts during a meeting Tuesday.

    Armbruster said the legislation may be introduced in the House next week. Two things that the committee has been discussing is limiting the use of URA funding for public facilities and imposing penalties for not filing reports.

Email the writer: pjensen@mtexpress.com

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