SAN FRANCISCO — Idaho lawmakers adjourned this week after a session dominated by budget woes, while giving voters the chance to restore the ability of government-owned airports and hospitals to issue revenue bonds without a referendum.
The economy has taken a hammer to the state’s general fund, which is expected to bring in less than $2.4 billion in revenue for fiscal 2011, after collecting more than $2.9 billion as recently as fiscal 2008.
The GOP holds massive majorities in both houses of the Legislature, and Gov. Butch Otter, a fellow Republican, praised them for not raising taxes.
“Idahoans can be proud that their interests, their money, and their rights were protected by these senators and representatives,” he said in a statement Tuesday.
Education took a major hit, with a 7.5% budget reduction for the next school year. Lawmakers approved a few bond-related bills, including constitutional amendments that the state’s voters will decide in November.
They come in response to a 2006 opinion by the state Supreme Court, which ruled that government enterprises could not issue long-term revenue bonds without a vote of the people in their jurisdiction.
The 2006 decision blocked the city-owned Boise airport from issuing revenue bonds to finance a parking garage. The decision also affected public hospitals.
One such facility, the Bannock County-owned Portneuf Medical Center in Pocatello, was blocked from moving forward with its capital plan and responded by obtaining local voter approval to divest the county’s ownership of the facility into a joint venture comprised of a newly created nonprofit organization and a private operating firm, Legacy Hospital Partners Inc.
Voters will be asked to approve separate constitutional amendments restoring the abilities of public airports and hospitals to issue revenue debt if there is no recourse to taxes. They will also be asked to approve another, related amendment designed to confirm the ability of municipal electric utilities to enter into long-term power contracts, and to issue revenue bonds for capital projects if they receive majority voter approval.
Lawmakers also approved a $12 million authorization for new grant anticipation revenue vehicle bonds to finance state highway projects. They also passed a bill repealing the requirement for local issuers of debt to report information about the debt to the state treasurer.
“Due to the establishment of Electronic Municipal Market Access, by the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board (in accordance with MSRB rule G-36), there is no longer a need to require the submission of debt information to the state treasurer’s office,” according to a fiscal note staff prepared for the legislation.