Local column: The last round up

The Idaho Legislature 2018 kicked off with Gov. Otter’s final State of the State address, with focus on education and taxes, write Carrie and Jerry Scheid.

Carrie: It’s time to alert our fellow Idahoans the State Legislature is back in session. What did ya’ think of Governor Otter’s speech last Monday?

Jerry: You mean Butch’s last round up with our wily legislators? At least his proposals to fund education weren’t a gun fight at the OK Corral.

Carrie: For K-12, he wants $42 million to fulfill the fourth year of the Task Force’s “Career Ladder” to improve teacher pay. Maybe we’ll keep our teachers from leaving Idaho for greener pastures in Wyoming.

Jerry: Moving onto higher education, he tipped his Stetson to Bonneville County for approving our new community college.

Carrie: He did a lot more than that! Last year, he asked the Legislature to give College of Eastern Idaho (CEI) $5 million in start-up funds. This year he’s proposing $5 million of which $4 million is new funding for the Associate in Arts and Associate in Science degrees. This is in addition to the college’s technical education funding.

Jerry: You’re a CEI trustee; how are things going?

Carrie: This spring we have 1040 students compared to 700 a year ago. We’ve also introduced Idaho’s first ever “joint admission” program.

Jerry: Joint admission? Is that some kind of orthopedic program?

Carrie: Don’t be ridiculous. The program allows new students to choose joint admission at both CEI and University of Idaho. They complete their first two years at CEI for a fraction of the cost of a university, then move seamlessly into U. of I. as a junior.

Jerry: Great idea! Any chance it will happen with ISU, BYUI and BSU?

Carrie: We hope so! CEI staff are exploring possibilities.

Jerry: Is it true CEI will offer a summer session?

Carrie: Yes, we are moving to a “trimester” system so students, especially working adults, can finish faster. It’ll make better use of our buildings and campus.

Jerry: Speaking of colleges, the Governor proposed a new “CEO” for higher education. Is that a Chancellor system with schools becoming campuses of a single university?

Carrie: No. They say the CEO’s job will be to better integrate higher education back office systems such as info technology, payroll, purchasing, etc. The Higher Education Task Force thinks this could save $60 million which could be better used for scholarships, reducing tuition costs, etc.

Jerry: The Task Force also found that state income tax collections could increase $500 million per year, with no change in population, if Idaho’s 42 percent “go on” rate to post-secondary education could reach 60 percent.

Carrie: Speaking of taxes, they were a big part of the Governor’s speech. The State Tax Commission is forecasting the new federal tax laws will increase Idaho’s revenues by $97 million.

Jerry: Really? I thought the federal tax reform would reduce tax revenues!

Carrie: It’s because we lose the personal exemption. Large families will be hit hard because they lose the $4,050 exemption each taxpayer and dependent used to get. The feds’ solution is a $2,000 tax credit per child. But the state doesn’t offer that.

Jerry: I see the governor is proposing a 0.45 percent decrease in the state income tax rate for everyone? The top bracket would drop from 7.4 percent to 6.95 percent.

Carrie: He is also proposing an $85 tax credit for dependents. But wouldn’t large families benefit more by eliminating the grocery sales tax? The governor dislikes that idea. He vetoed it last session.

Jerry: Somebody once said, “The only thing certain in life is death and taxes.” But death doesn’t get worse every time the Legislature meets!”

Jerry is a retired farmer/rancher and native Idahoan. Carrie is a retired nonprofit administrator. They live in Idaho Falls.