Education Funding Draws Attention

The following is an article published in The Coeur d’Alene Press on November 22, 2009 by Rick Thomas, Staff Writer.

POST FALLS – The three Republican legislators representing District 5 met with 15 current and prospective precinct chairmen Saturday morning at Moon Dollars Coffee House to share their agenda for the session and get feedback on issues considered important by their constituents.

Sen. Jim Hammond was joined by Representatives Bob Nonini and Frank Henderson, who all agreed creating jobs would be a high priority. But with education taking more than half the state’s general fund and a request for a 9 percent increase over last year to meet increased enrollment, it will be a major effort to decide which programs will see budget cuts or be eliminated.

“Sometimes in good times we grow government,” Hammond said. “We need to look at what programs are not necessary.”

Because Idaho law requires that teachers work no fewer days and for no less money than in their previous year on the job, and with 85 percent of school district budgets going to employee wages and benefits, balancing the budget — also a legal requirement — will take a major effort.

Education and health and welfare costs eat up the majority of the state’s budget, and the general fund is down to $2.3 billion to $2.4 billion from $3 billion just a few years ago, the legislators said.

“If we eliminated all but K-16 and health and welfare, we would still not have enough to make the necessary cuts” for the 2011 budget, Hammond said.

Bob Hollingsworth, Precinct 61 chairman from Coeur d’Alene, asked how lawmakers could get a handle on teacher salaries.

Nonini, who often butts heads with educators and their union, the Idaho Education Association, said contracts are difficult to negotiate and the process typically takes more than two months.

“We need to give districts the ability to renegotiate contracts,” he said.

He and Hammond agreed teacher pay should be based more on performance rather than the automatic 3.5 percent pay increases they get for their first 12 years on the job, and others agreed.

“It seems like inequity, teachers can make the same money or more,” said Tom Cross of Post Falls, Precinct 36.

Tax increases were another issue Cross had on his mind, and he asked the legislators if changing the law that allows entities to apply “foregone” tax increases of up to the 3 percent maximum allowed in the future if not taken in a current budget year would be useful.

Hammond and Nonini agreed that changing the law would likely prompt taxing entities to grab all they could while they could. Henderson suggested that a better idea might be to limit foregone taxes to one-time purposes.

From Henderson’s perspective, helping the private sector create more jobs is the key to Idaho’s economic recovery. Among his ideas is eliminating the sales tax on lumber used to build new homes, benefiting the state’s timber and construction industries.

Building contractor Jeff Tyler, seeking the Coeur d’Alene Precinct 64 spot Nonini intends to vacate, said impact fees imposed on new construction is hampering growth. A recent proposal for a 12-unit project would have set the developer back more than $150,000 at $13,000 per unit, he said, and kept it from getting started.

Hammond agreed that is another issue that needs to be addressed, as not all fees are being set according to law and there needs to be uniformity.

Larry Gilman of Precinct 30 in Post Falls suggested there should be more information available on the Internet from taxing districts, with agendas, live and archived meetings and information on expenditures and biographies of board members and employees.

“Let’s get some transparency, make it easy for people to look in,” he said.

The legislators agreed that could be useful, and could be required by the state, but there are costs involved. Hammond said they do not want to follow the lead of the federal government and create unfunded mandates, however.

Henderson said the proposals generated during the two-hour discussion will be helpful.

“When we get good ideas like the things we heard today, we can get a bill printed early, before the session,” he said.

© 2009 The Coeur d’Alene Press.

HB 262 Idaho

The following is a brief on a bill presented to the House Education Committee by the committee’s chairman, Rep. Bob Nonini, on March 24, 2009. The bill was signed into law on July 1, 2009.

After more than a two-hour debate, the House Education Committee has voted 10-6 in favor of HB 262, legislation from the committee’s chairman, Rep. Bob Nonini, to freeze teacher salaries on the salary grid for a year and to phase out an early retirement incentive. Opponents said the one-year freeze would actually be a permanent hit to teachers’ earnings, affecting not only their future earnings but their retirement.

“For some teachers that are close to retirement, yes, it might affect the amount of PERSI that they’ll receive for the rest of their lives,” Nonini told the panel. But, he said, “What we do affects every state employee.” Education groups that opposed the bill contrasted it with HB 252, a consensus bill developed by a bipartisan committee, endorsed by educators and sponsored by Nonini, to allow temporary cuts in school funding. Rep. Liz Chavez, D-Lewiston, said that bill covered the needed cuts, and opposed HB 262. “I think it will seriously undermine the Idaho school districts’ efforts to recruit and retain good teachers,” she said.

The bill is one of three to ease education cuts by suspending or changing state laws. In addition to HB 262 and HB 252, another measure, HB 256, also sponsored by Nonini, that cuts state reimbursement to school districts for student busing, cleared the Education Committee yesterday and is pending in the House.

Chambers of Commerce Give Gift to Legislators

The following is an article published in The Coeur d’Alene Press on December 13, 2007 by Rick Thomas, Staff Writer.

A military MRE (meal, ready-to-eat), a can of Crisco, a Taser (water pistol) and a pinetree air freshener aren’t usually the first things state legislators pack when they head to Boise for their annual session.

But when the 2008 session begins on Jan. 7, they’ll be working in some crowded conditions as the state Capitol building undergoes renovations. Those unusual items were included in a “survival kit” presented in jest to the lawmakers by the public policy representatives from the chambers of commerce of Coeur d’Alene, Post Falls, Hayden and Rathdrum at the annual Coeur d’Alene Area Chamber of Commerce legislative sendoff lunch on Thursday at the Coeur d’Alene Inn.

Food for emergencies, Crisco to get them out of a tight spot, the mock Taser to silence long-winded representatives and an air freshener for its obvious purpose were suggested in a humorous vein, but the issues facing the state were taken seriously.

Transportation, taxes, education, water rights, health care and economic development were the top issues of the chambers, and the legislators were generally in agreement.

“Infrastructure is incredibly important to us,” said Darin Hayes, chairman of the Coeur d’Alene chamber’s public policy committee.

How to fund needed improvements in highways is the unanswered question. Increased fuel taxes or registration fees are among the possibilities under consideration.

“There will be some changes,” said Rep. Marge Chadderdon, R-Coeur d’Alene, though she reminded the roughly 120 who attended the lunch that the Legislature will have to pass laws Gov. Butch Otter won’t veto.

Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, said he doesn’t believe Otter will favor a fuel tax increase.

Eliminating the personal property tax is an also an idea favored by business, which pays taxes on equipment and other non-real estate property, and Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene said he plans to support the elimination of taxes on the first $50,000 of personal property.

Education, particularly professional-technical training, is high on the priority list for business, and the lawmakers are in virtual lock-step with them on the issue.

“For two years (Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene) and I have championed it, and we have been joined by (Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls),” Henderson said. The leadership has not given it a priority.”

Henderson did have one other issue — with the survival kit offered. One issue not addressed as the Legislature prepares for a session they hope will end before April 1 is the lack of bathrooms in their temporary meeting chambers.

“I was hoping for … Depends,” he said.

© 2007 The Coeur d’Alene Press.

GOP Victorious in N. Idaho

The following is an article published in The Coeur d’Alene Press on November 8, 2006 by Erica Curless and Meghann M. Cuniff, Staff Writers.

House District 5, seat A

Bob Nonini (R): 63.86% (7562)
David Larsen (D): 36.13% (4278)

Several Coeur d’Alene legislative races tight; Republicans easily retain majority statewide

Jim Hammond of Post Falls, center/facing, hugs friend Skip Hissong as early returns show him comfortably leading his opponent for the state legislature Tuesday night at Red Lion Templin’s Hotel. (Jesse Tinsley The Spokesman-Review )

Republicans in North Idaho were maintaining their grip on seats in the Idaho Legislature, but the races were close in Coeur d’Alene, where just a few votes separated some candidates.
In Coeur d’Alene, Democrat Rep. George Sayler, the assistant minority leader, fought off a challenge from political newcomer and Republican Sharon Culbreth with 58 percent of the vote in early returns.

In the Senate race, Democrat Steven Foxx, 28, was a couple hundred votes behind longtime Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene. Goedde had 49 percent of the vote in early returns while Foxx had 46 percent.

“We’re doing great,” Foxx said. “We’re neck and neck. I think voters are really discontent with what’s going on.”

Goedde said he was likely losing votes to the Constitution Party, which was endorsed by the “far Christian right.” But he remained hopeful he’d pull it off.

Constitution Party candidate Ray Writz had 2 percent in early returns, as did independent Jeremy Boggess.

In the House, Rep. Marge Chadderdon, R-Coeur d’Alene, was winning re-election with 52 percent of the vote. Democrat challenger and former Rep. Bonnie Douglas, received 48 percent.

Democratic candidates across Idaho led Republican rivals in some races for the Legislature, though the GOP looked to hold its big advantage in both the House and the Senate, according to very early returns.

Democrats now trail 28-7 in the Senate and 57-13 in the House.

In other North Idaho legislative races:

District 5

Republican Jim Hammond of Post Falls will likely replace retiring Sen. Dick Compton, R-Coeur d’Alene, after beating out Democrat challenger Chuck Thomas. Hammond, a former mayor and recently retired Post Falls city administrator, had 64 percent of the vote in early returns. Thomas, a retired Coeur d’Alene firefighter and political newcomer, had 35 percent.

In the House, Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Post Falls, won re-election as did Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls.

Nonini, who owns an insurance and finance company, fought off Democrat challenger David Larsen for the second time. Nonini got 62 percent of the vote in early returns while Larsen, a retired high school math teacher, had 38 percent.Henderson also beat out perennial Democrat challenger Lyndon Harriman, a Canfield Middle School teacher. Henderson, a former Kootenai County commissioner and Post Falls mayor, had 65 percent of the vote in early returns while Harriman received 35 percent.

District 1

Republican Rep. Eric Anderson of Priest River will likely return for a second term as the District 1 House seat B representative after squeaking by his high-spending opponent, Democrat oceanographer Steve Elgar, of Sandpoint. Elgar garnered 48 percent of the vote compared with Anderson’s 52 percent. The Anderson-Elgar race, a repeat from 2004, was the highest-grossing legislative race in North Idaho, with Elgar raking in $54,697 and Anderson $46,617

Also in District 1, Rep. George Eskridge was re-elected for a fourth term, fending off a challenge from Democrat Bob Wynhausen. Eskridge, who retired from the Bonneville Power Adminstration , got 64 percent of the vote while Wynhausen, a retired accountant, received 36 percent.

In the Senate, Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, will return for a sixth term, making her tied with Rep. Jim Clark, R-Hayden, for the most senior member of the North Idaho legislative delegation. Keough received 69 percent of the vote while her Democratic opponent, retired journalist Jim Ramsey, got 31 percent.

District 2

In Shoshone County and lower Bonner County, Republicans Sen. Joyce Broadsword, of Sagle, and Rep. Dick Harwood, of St. Maries, both easily won re-election.

Broadsword, who owns a log home manufacturing company, received 64 percent of the vote to Democrat Steve Johnson’s 36 percent. Johnson, a schoolteacher, ran for the House four years ago and the Senate six years ago.

This will be Broadsword’s second term in the Legislature. She served as vice chairwoman of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee and is positioned to become chairwoman now that Compton, who served as chairman, has retired.

Harwood beat Democrat Richard Taniguchi, a retired mechanic and welder . Early returns showed Harwood with 62 percent of the vote and Taniguchi with 38 percent.

Harwood, a retired Potlatch Corp. employee and small-business owner, has been in the Legislature since 2000.

© 2006 The Coeur d’Alene Press.

Bob Nonini Wins Again

The following is an article published in The Coeur d’Alene Press on November 8, 2006.

District 5

COEUR d’ALENE – Bob Nonini, Frank Henderson, and Jim Hammond campaigned together and celebrated their apparent landslide victories together.

The trio of Republicans promised to advance the interests of North Idaho during the 2007 legislative session.

“When we were going to door to door, people thought we were part of a church group,” Henderson said Tuesday night. “We’re a great team. We’re going to have the No. 1 delegation in the state.”

With 64 percent of the ballots counted, Henderson had 5,872 votes (65 percent) compared to 3,110 (35 percent) from his Democratic challenger, Lyndon Harriman, in the District 5 Representative Position B race.

“There’s a lot left to do,” said Henderson, who will serve his second term. “I am honored the voters had confidence in me again.”

Nonini was well on his way to earning his second term as a District 5 Representative Position A race. Nonini had 5,760 votes (64 percent) compared to the 3,275 (36 percent) for his Democratic opponent, David Larsen.

“I am very happy,” Nonini said. “People have told me that getting elected to a second term is the toughest election. I worked extremely hard and I am excited to get back to work.” Hammond successfully jumped from the Post Falls city administrator job to the District 5 Senate seat. Hammond seemed to be en route to a big victory over Democrat Chuck Thomas. Hammond had 6,003 votes (67 percent) compared to Thomas’ 2,979 votes (33 percent).

“I’ve watched the Legislature for 20 years and now I am just thrilled to be able to actually serve,” Hammond said.

Hammond, Nonini, and Henderson promised to work on lowering property taxes and removing the sales tax on groceries.

“I am excited about getting the sales tax off of food because the governor seems committed to that,” Henderson said. “It needs to be done.”

Nonini and Henderson said having another friendly face in the Senate will allow them to pass more laws because they’ll be to gauge the temperature of the Senate and tailor bills that will pass both houses.

Other local incumbents have easier time holding on to their seats.

District 4

COEUR d’ALENE – With 56 of 75 Kootenai County precincts reporting this morning, one District 4 race was too close to call, while voters have seemingly decided to send two legislators back to Boise for another term.

Sen. John Goedde was leading challenger Steven Foxx by one vote at 12:40 a.m. today.

In District 4, Democratic Rep. George Sayler had the largest margin of victory with 58 percent of the votes over challenger Sharon Culbreth’s 42 percent.

Republican Rep. Marge Chadderdon had a slight lead of 5,666 votes to 5,094 votes over Bonnie Douglas, and Goedde was leading Foxx by a 5,151 to 5,150 vote.

Sayler was leading Culbreth 6,023 votes to 4,459 votes with 75 percent of precincts reporting.

Sayler attributed his win to working in the community for a long time and being a “moderate” Democrat in a traditionally red county.

“I think (moderation) is important to the Democrats getting back to being a viable party and we’re working on that,” Sayler said. He added that eliminating or decreasing the sales tax on groceries, education and child care legislation will be priorities for his next term. Sayler was elected in 2002 and is the assistant minority leader in the House. “Also important is just being an advocate for the district as a whole — not just one or two things.”

Incumbent Chadderdon said if she was sent back to serve in the Legislature, community colleges would top her list of priorities.

“When we look, half of the population of Idaho lives in Ada and Canyon counties and we need to provide the availability of education that community colleges provide,” Chadderdon said. “It’s the fastest way to improve the livelihood of many, many people.”

Douglas served in the House from 2002 to 2004, until Coeur d’Alene City Attorney Mike Gridley beat Douglas in the Democratic primary. Chadderdon then beat Gridley in the general election to serve the last two years.

“I’m proud of the Democrats. They really pulled together to get out and vote,” Douglas said. “I think we had a good slate of candidates up and down the ticket.”

Goedde, who is the chairman of the Senate Education Committee and co-chairs the legislative interim committee to study community colleges, also pointed to education as being at the top of his list. Goedde is seeking his fourth term.

“First, it’s to see the community college issue through,” Goedde said Tuesday night with a lead of 178 votes and about 50 percent of precincts reporting. “Certainly, if I survive tonight, I’ll have the opportunity to lead the direction of that discussion.”

Foxx, a case manager who specializes in psychosocial rehabilitation for Powder Basin Associates, lost to Woody McEvers in a 2005 City Council race.

Foxx declined to comment.

© 2006 The Coeur d’Alene Press.