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The 2009 Legislative Session Finally Ends

Dear Friends and Neighbors:
This has been a tough session.  It was long and arduous. We have worked very diligently to make necessary budget cuts and yet maintain programs and services that are necessary for state government.  We had to look at filling the budget’s shortfalls in the current fiscal year 2009, provide budget projections and budgets for a balanced budget in the upcoming fiscal year of 2010, and still look forward enough into 2011 to make sure that we didn’t create a major hole to fill or have to make additional major cuts in 2011.  As a legislature this session, we have done a reasonable job of looking at all three years of budgets and trying to provide for today and plan for the future.  As a past legislative body, we did some good planning in creating savings accounts that have helped us in the current economic crisis.  We are not out of the woods by any stretch, but we should make it through the next fiscal year without having to further cut government services.  The Governor complimented the legislature and said, “Not the least of those achievements, in my view, is your crafting of a budget that recognizes the proper role of government in people’s lives, and endeavors to meet our constitutional and statutory responsibilities within the means of Idaho taxpayers.”
The major accomplishments of this session can be characterized as balancing the budget, making minor changes to existing law, comprehensive aquifer management, and not raising taxes.  The Senate introduced approximately 250 pieces of legislation and the House introduced just over 370 bills.  There were also memorials, resolutions and proclamations.  The topics were wide and deep, but a continuous theme was transportation, firearm legislation, crime victims, water, and education.  Some major issues that did not pass were liquor license reform, transportation fuel taxes, beer and wine taxes, and public utility assistance to low income customers.
There were weeks of direct discussion about the federal stimulus funds, how they were to be used, and how they affected each of the agencies and departments.  This process alone added two to three weeks to the legislative session.  Having sat through all of the budget appropriation process, I can tell you that the stimulus dollars were spent as wisely as possible, knowing they were one- and two-year monies only.  These funds kept budget cuts in Education and Health and Welfare to a minimum.   They also provided additional funding for transportation projects across the state.  I wish they had been used for more economic stimulus programs but, with the strings attached, we made good use of your federal stimulus tax dollars or borrowings, as the case may be.  

We also laid the foundation for real advances in education policy and technology by approving a sweeping reorganization of education governance from kindergarten through college, and by funding the Idaho Education network initiative to bring the best and most cost-effective learning experience to every student.  Our water resources future is more secure as well, with the approval of the landmark Swan Falls water rights agreement with Idaho Power Company, and with the funding of the Comprehensive Aquifer Management Plan process.
The Senate passed a $5.6 million plan to limit most elections to two days a year.  The measure has cleared the House and now goes to Governor Otter.  The bill would limit most elections to May and November.  However, public schools could schedule levy and bond elections in March and August.  Voters will not see any changes until 2011.  The state will provide $4.1 million annually to pay for elections, with counties getting another $1.5 million to buy new election equipment.
I want to personally thank those of you who have communicated with me during this session.  It is always helpful to know what my constituents are thinking and feeling.  If you haven’t yet contacted me, please call, write or e-mail me at dmortimer@senate.idaho.gov and I will add you to my communication list.  I want to remind you that the sessions can be viewed live on the internet and also via public television during the session. There is a great summary of the session called the “Sine Die” report you can get it at www.legislature.idaho.gov on the state legislative web page. This report is a written synopsis of the key legislation.  I have worked hard in trying to serve my constituents and continue to learn and become more effective.  Thanks for allowing me this opportunity.