A new Idaho legislative session has begun with a tradition done in a different way.
In normal times, Governor Brad Little would appear before a joint session of the legislature on opening day and deliver his State of the State address. But in this pandemic, he gave his 30-minute speech in a television studio with no interruptions for applause.
Little opened with his commentary about Wednesday’s insurrection in the U.S. Capitol. He referred to comments made by former President George W. Bush, comparing the event to something seen in a banana republic.
“The riots tarnished the shining values America stands for. This is not who we are,” Little said. “Hostility and violence are not an expression of your rights. They are a violation of everyone else’s.”
The governor referred to the fence that now encircles the federal Capitol complex.
“I believe we the people have the power to form a more perfect union. How? By condemning the upheaval and not defending or denying it. By refusing to be intimidated by those seek to destroy our democratic process. By redoubling our commitment to peaceful assembly and civil discourse,” he said.
Little pointed out the 100th anniversary of the building of Idaho’s Statehouse.
“What an appropriate time to let the light of democracy shine, today and for 100 more years,” he said.
Then the governor went on to other issues he would normally cover in a State of the State address. He touted the work done by the state government over the last 10 months to address the Covid pandemic. That includes not only the public health work necessary to respond to and slow the spread of the virus, he said, but also the work to ensure that the state’s economy would stay moving when many of the state’s businesses were required to close their doors. Little mentioned the federal CARES Act money spent by the state to help schools, small businesses and others carry on during the pandemic. He also touted work decisions to reduce state government spending at a time when tax receipts had slowed. He said Idaho’s fiscal situation, with a large surplus, is among the best of all 50 states because of decisions made in 2020.
Looking forward, the governor proposed $450 million in tax relief, including $290 in one-time measures and $160 million in permanent tax cuts.
Little also proposed spending $126 million to improve local and state highway infrastructure to help Idahoans save one of their most important commodities: time. He vowed to work with the legislature to develop a reliable, sustainable transportation funding plan.
The governor proposed other infrastructure investments, including $60 million for water system projects.
In education, he said the pandemic has disrupted the progress students had been making because of the interruptions and changes in instruction. He said state needs to help schools and students that were harder hit close the achievement gaps with school districts that faced less disruption. Little said the state should continue to fund the career ladder to increase pay for public school teachers. And he said the state needs to continue to work to improve Internet connectivity in areas where broadband access is slow or non-existent.
Little also expressed his desire the state continue to actively manage its forest lands. He said that’s the way the state will make progress in reducing the carnage done by wildfires, saying he doesn’t believe the claims by some that wildfires in Idaho were caused by climate change.
The Idaho legislature will begin its 2021 committee work on Tuesday.