Mark Harris

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As the 66th Legislative Session begins, I note we are blessed to live in Idaho. Many capitol buildings across the nation are closed to the public because of the unrest and the COVID pandemic. Idaho’s capitol building remains open, not only to the Legislature, but to the public as well.

We began the 2021 session with the State of the State from Governor Brad Little. He began by thanking Idaho’s doctors, nurses and healthcare workers who have been on the front lines during the COVID pandemic. These healthcare workers deserve our thanks. This year, many of our communities and families have suffered and many of us have lost friends and loved ones not only because of the hardships caused by the pandemic, but because of the tragedy of suicide. It has been a tough year. My prayers go out to those that have suffered such loses.

In the Governor’s address, he also outlined his budget plans and ideas for the coming year.

Many states across the nation are facing budget crisis that will force them to cut their budgets 20-40-percent or more. Idaho, on the other hand, has a record surplus and the Governor has plans to use it for tax cuts and investments for the future. He is proposing a $450 million tax cut which would be the largest in Idaho history. $295 million would be a one-time tax cut and $160 million would be a permanent cut. This is to let the taxpayer keep more of their hard-earned money during these difficult economic times.

Governor Little is also placing a priority on transportation. He is proposing $126 million for state and local highway infrastructure projects and another $80 million in ongoing transportation funding. Idaho is still one of the fastest growing states in the nation. This growth is not only adding more traffic but also added wear on our roads.

In addition, the Governor is proposing to add another $35 million to broadband and internet connectivity; that is on top of last year’s $50 million addition. These funds will go towards helping many rural areas in the State get connected to help educate our kids as well as help local economies.

Education remains a priority for Governor Little. He is proposing investments to help kids that are falling behind academically due to the pandemic. He is recommending $20 million to enhance literacy and to help offset the disruptions associated with COVID. He is also recommending $44.9 million for career ladder growth for our teachers.

To help keep our State moving forward, Governor Little has some good ideas that address the issues that need to be addressed this year. The legislature will pick up these issues and take them through the budget and law-making process. There will be some changes as we negotiate with the governor and his plan.

The Legislature will also spend time this session to address the authority of the executive branch as there are some constitutional issues regarding the current inability of the Legislature to call itself into session. The Governor’s Emergency Declaration orders regarding COVID and the effects of his orders will also be on the legislative agenda. There are also some statute corrections that need to be made to protect the rights of our citizens.

This session, I am also excited to report that I have been elected by the Senate Republicans to serve as their Majority Caucus Chair. This position is an honor as it places me in the leadership team of the Idaho State Senate.

It continues to be a special privilege to serve you in the Idaho Senate and I take this privilege very seriously. Please contact me if you have concerns or questions. I try to answer all those inquires the best I can. You can contact me at 208-332-1429 or mharris@senate.idaho.gov .

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