Led by opposition from Senate Education Committee Committee Chairman John Goedde and Vice Chairman Dean Mortimer, the Senate rejected the $1.3 billion public schools budget Wednesday on a 18-17 vote. The budget represents about 47 percent of state general fund spending.
Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, and Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, said the Joint Finance-Appropriation Committee had overstepped its authority by making policy and not just writing a budget. Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, defended the committee’s decisions. At issue were $21 million for districts to reward educators who improve student achievement, $12 million to “unfreeze” Idaho’s “steps and lanes” salary grid that provides state funding for salaries according to years of service and education level, and $3 million for technology pilot projects.
House Bill 323 had a 2.2 percent spending increase, was approved by the House, 52-16, and supported by Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna. But just 10 of the Senate’s 27 Republicans voted for the bill. All seven Democrats voted yes.
Any prospect of a quick resolution by having a senator change his or her mind quickly ended late Wednesday morning, when the opportunity for a motion to reconsider the vote passed.
For weeks, opponents of the K-12 bill have been working behind the scenes to defeat the measure, which appears to blow up legislative leadership’s plans to adjourn Friday.
In a strange coincidence, immediately after the vote the Senate held the graduation ceremony for Senate pages.
Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said leadership will sort out what happens next, but that additional committee meetings appear to be necessary.
Asked why, as floor leader and a supporter of the bill, he let such a key measure come to a vote when the outcome was in such doubt, Davis said, “I had two quality chairmen and two committees that respectfully disagreed with one another. The full Senate needed to resolve this.”
Goedde said he hopes to hold several hours public hearings on the policy questions, with adequate notice for the public to attend. “Maybe it will have to be the first of next week,” Goedde said.
House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, who played a major role in drafting HB 323, met with Cameron, Gov. Butch Otter’s Chief of Staff David Hensley and House floor sponsor Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls, shortly after the vote outside the JFAC hearing room.
“Let the dust settle,” Bedke advised. “We shouldn’t have a visceral reaction right now. We should address the issues. Overreaction, in my opinion, is not all that professional.”
Another key hurdle, House Bill 65, passed the House 69-0, but remains in Goedde’s committee. That measure is a “fix” to reconcile $60 million in spending in the current fiscal year that ends in June, following voter rejection of the “Students Come First” laws in November. Goedde and House Education Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Star, are co-sponsors of HB 65, but the bill may be a bargaining chip in the final days of the session. Goedde said prospects for committee approval of the bill improved with the rejection of the fiscal 2014 appropriation.
In an odd footnote, Boise Democratic Sen. Branden Durst tried to avoid voting, saying he would receive a direct pecuniary benefit because his wife is a teacher. Majority Caucus Chairman Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, objected. Durst was required to vote and voted for the bill.
The Legislature’s rules require disclosure of conflicts of interest but require lawmakers to vote, unless they are excused by their colleagues. Many teachers and spouses of teachers have served in the Legislature without attempting to be excused from voting. Durst’s move is the first in recent memory.
Absent Durst’s vote, HB 323 would have been defeated 18-16.
Here’s the roll call:
Republicans for (10): Dean Cameron, Rupert; Bart Davis, Idaho Falls; Brent Hill, Rexburg; Dan Johnson, Lewiston; Shawn Keough, Sandpoint, Todd Lakey, Nampa; Patti Anne Lodge, Huston; Curt McKenzie, Nampa; Jim Rice, Caldwell; John Tippets, Montpelier.
Democrats for (7): Les Bock, Boise; Cherie Buckner-Webb, Boise; Branden Durst, Boise; Roy Lacey, Pocatello; Dan Schmidt, Moscow; Michelle Stennett, Ketchum; Elliot Werk, Boise.
Republicans against (18): Steve Bair, Blackfoot; Cliff Bayer, Boise; Bert Brackett, Rogerson; Russ Fulcher, Meridian; John Goedde, Coeur d’Alene; Jim Guthrie, McCammon; Marv Hagedorn, Meridian; Lee Heider, Twin Falls; Fred Martin, Boise; Dean Mortimer, Idaho Falls; Bob Nonini, Coeur d’Alene; Sheryl Nuxoll, Cottonwood; Jim Patrick, Twin Falls; Monty Pearce, New Plymouth; Jeff Siddoway, Terreton; Steve Thayn, Emmett, Steve Vick, Dalton Gardens; Chuck Winder, Boise.