A leading Idaho Democrat says he’s seen a change in recent years in the way members of the Republican-controlled Legislature look at spending money.
Growth in Idaho’s economy has led to increased state revenue. As a result, Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, says lawmakers who approved large cuts to state programs during the recession, have now changed their tact. Rusche is the House Minority Leader.
“In ’08 and ’09 we were just at the cliff, going into the recession, that we didn’t know how long and how deep it was,” he says. “There was a lot of anxiety about extending taxes and the effects on families and businesses.”
Now, as a the 2015 session kicks off and experts say Idaho’s economy looks to be in pretty good shape, Rusche says Republicans who control the Legislature have an appetite to look areas of state government that have been underfunded.
“I don’t think people are seeing a cliff ahead,” he says. “I think maybe they’re seeing a bumpy road. So they’re a little more willing to say ‘is this truly what we need to do, and if it is, how do we do it appropriately?’”
Rusche says last year’s increase in funding for education was an example. State lawmakers passed a larger increase in school funding than what Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter had proposed.
This year, Rusche thinks the change could result in lawmakers allocating more resources to road and bridge maintenance. He says lawmakers weren’t interested in spending millions of extra dollars on transportation during the recession.
“I don’t get the same sense of the general fear of the [economic] environment that I did before,” he says. “And there has been an additional six years, seven years, of study on what we need to do for transportation, and understanding about the condition, and hearing from our constituents, too, about their concerns about the roads.”
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