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End of Year Letter

March 30, 2010

The 2010 legislative session has come to a close; I would like to take this opportunity to share some of what the Idaho legislature has accomplished this year.

To start with, State revenues have continued their unprecedented decline over the past year which had a major effect on the General Fund and the decisions we were forced to make. Not only is there no growth in state government, but we have reduced almost $700 million dollars from the General Fund. This has not been easy, but necessary. The original FY 2009 appropriation was set at $2.959 billion and the legislature set the FY 2011 target number at $2.29 billion. It was imperative that we set as realistic and conservative number for the FY 2011 budget as possible because after the budget is set, there is nearly no savings left in the state accounts.

The public education budget was one of the most difficult for most Legislators this year. Even though the public education budget was forced to take a significant reduction, I think the Legislature did everything it could to provide the local school districts with the flexibility that they need to set and control their budgets. It is important that we as a state continue to do everything that we can to provide flexibility and maximize all education spending. We expect the continued progress of our students even with the unfortunate and hopefully short-lived budget reductions. I specifically want to thank those in education for their excellence and service in these difficult times. We did continue to fund, with strict controls, the Idaho Education Network to provide better use of technology and online classes in our schools. We continued to promote dual concurrent enrollment where our high school students can take college courses while still in high school.

This year, Idaho made the national news as the first to pass a Health Care Freedom Act (HB 391), as a preemptive measurement that charges Idaho’s Attorney General to go to court against the federal government for any health care mandates. Given the recent events in Washington D.C., this legislation may prove to be invaluable. This bill is to help ensure Idaho citizens remain free of unconstitutionally based compulsion by their federal government.

The legislature has considered making a number of small changes to Idaho’s Constitution. This requires a referendum, meaning that the changes will be decided by you, as a voter and you can expect to see them on this year’s ballot. I would like to explain a couple of the changes briefly for your benefit.

The first two proposed changes to Idaho’s constitution are Senate Joint Resolution 102 & 103. They both deal with the sale of state land. SJR 103 deals specifically with the sale of university land. SJR 102 deals with the sale of public lands. Both are meant to increase revenues for the State by allowing more flexibility in the process. The changes would allow the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) to act more like a prudent investor when leasing and selling lands and could lead to the state making more money on the 2.6 million acres of State lands in Idaho. These resolutions may not be adopted. You can check their status by reading the website below.

There are three adopted proposed changes to Idaho’s Constitution: House Joint Resolutions 4, 5, and 7. They deal with airports, publically owned hospitals and power cities. With these referendums, an airport would be allowed to incur debt without voter approval as long as the debt is payable solely from airport revenues and not tax funding. HJR 4 deals with the debt incurred by medical facilities. It will allow hospitals that are owned by counties or districts to incur debt without vote, as long as no tax payer money is used to pay for the debt. The third, relates to cities such as Idaho Falls, that own their own municipal power systems to enter into long-term power supply, transmission and other agreements with suppliers without the need for an authorizing election.

Making changes to Idaho’s constitution is a serious matter and is nothing to be taken lightly. That is why the legislature feels it is important to give you, the voter, the chance to have your voice heard on these issues.

We heard the voice of the people on Public Television and reduced the budget and gave direction to become as self supporting as possible. Public Television provides two critical services. It provides coverage of the legislature and serves our rural areas. It also represents our State.

As a summary, I am satisfied with our efforts. We balanced the budget, we kept education as whole as possible, and we provided the minimum funding to maintain safety and corrections for our citizens. We reduced Health and Welfare spending and yet tried to protect crucial services. We maintained and hopefully focused the Parks and Recreation Department. We combined several functions and asked for efficiencies. I want to compliment those who serve us in State government for their willingness to make the changes necessary and still provide their services in a positive way.

I am very grateful for the opportunity I have been given to serve in the Idaho Legislature. I hope to hear your input, concerns, and suggestions. You can still contact me at dmortimer@senate.idaho.gov. For a complete review of bills and journals you can go to www.legislature.idaho.gov.