The legislative year has ended, the dust has settled, and I want to report some of the events that I know you will find rather interesting.
One of the things I believe to be part of my job, is to position myself on your behalf to be influential in the legislature with an effective voice, not just a loud one. To help move that goal forward, I was named Vice Chair of the Senate Education Committee and reappointed to the Joint Finance Appropriations Committee where I serve as the third most senior Senator. In addition, I was elected by my peers in the Senate to represent them on Legislative Council, which is the Legislature when the Legislature is not in session. This is critical to each of you in District 7 as it is seldom, if ever, that someone from North Idaho gets elected to that position. What this means to you is that you have someone, who represents your interests in this part of the state, speaking to legislators from all over Idaho. It is because of your support that I am here today, and I am grateful, so thank you!
This past session I carried 30 bills, the second most by any Senator – and I am proud to say that each of these important pieces of legislation passed! I appreciate the respect and support of my colleges to achieve this milestone.
Broadband- How we get internet
Out of the entire state, our District is one of the worst for broadband connectivity. I have worked toward improving our service for several years. During this year’s Legislative session, I sponsored legislation that will plan and spend the broadband money in Idaho. There is $10 million left from the Trump Administration money, and $35 million in state money. I will serve in a leadership role on the group that determines how this money is spent. We must improve to compete!
As many of you know, I sit on the Senate Transportation Committee. Most of our goods, produced in North Idaho are trucked out of our area for use throughout the rest of the country and world. Our agricultural, timber and mining products require good and safe roads for our drivers. This year the Idaho legislature approved $80 million per year from general fund money for this purpose. Much of this expenditure will be bonded to provide more than $1.2 billion in transportation money in the future. Like everything, there are pros and cons to this plan.
As a member of the Joint Finance Appropriation Committee (JFAC) and Vice Chair of Senate Education, I was tasked with carrying many of the education funding bills for the Legislature. As you might suspect, this is a huge responsibility that is not without its controversy. JFAC was able to keep spending under a four percent increase, add to our state “rainy day” funds, increased the education budget $75 million and all while providing an income tax break. We must keep our government small, while being able to provide services to our constituents. This is never an easy task.
Education was surpassed in spending by Health and Welfare, for the first time in state history. Still, spending on education is huge. The frustration is that we are not moving the meter in
performance of students at lower grade levels. My frustration is that we really don’t have an agreement on what success looks like. Instead of talking about strategic goals, the Legislature spent a significant amount of time talking about social justice and critical race theory. Of course, these issues matter to Idaho. I helped draft the bill (HB 377) relating to critical race theory that gained national attention. In fact, I sponsored the bill in the Senate. I was interviewed by six national news outlets about this bill including FOX News. It was great exposure on an important issue. In all of this, I don’t want to lose track of what needs to happen long term: more student success by third grade and continuing to define success in higher education.
The Legislature made two moves to cut taxes during this session. While I don’t sit on any committees dealing directly with tax policy, this issue is important to all of us. The Legislature passed an income tax cut of about $120 million, one of the largest tax cuts in Idaho history. We also approved a property tax cut that is kind of a kitchen sink bill, meaning it had something for everybody. Unfortunately, I don’t think it will address the concerns of most of rural Idaho. Hopefully something can happen next year that is more significant on property tax relief.
During this pandemic year, several restrictions were put in place by government. My constituents pushed back hard on these restrictions. As a result, the legislature passed bills and I joined them. These bills limit the Governor’s emergency declaration powers, protect Idaho workers and churches, protect the right to assemble, bear arms and to balance the Governor’s powers in times of extreme emergency. Hopefully, we will not need to use these new laws for another 100 years! But at least we are better prepared if we do!
It is my privilege to represent you as your Senator from District 7. If you ever have questions, please contact me at the addresses listed above.
Senator Carl Crabtree, District 7