Gov. Brad Little used the opening moments of his third state of the state address to condemn the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol last week that has so far left five people dead.
“Former President George W. Bush aptly described the events as fitting of a “banana republic, not our democratic republic.” The riots tarnished the shining values America stands for,” Little said Monday.
He urged people to not defend or deny the actions of the mob of pro-Trump extremists, though he never mentioned the president’s incitement and encouragement of his followers prior to the break-in.
“Hostility and violence are not an expression of your rights; they are a violation of everyone else’s,” Little said to state lawmakers, some of whom have attended rallies and actively supported debunked conspiracy theories that the presidential election had been stolen from President Trump.
Little also joined Congressmen Russ Fulcher and Mike Simpson in signing on to a lawsuit to overturn the votes of millions of people in battleground states, which the U.S. Supreme Court rejected taking up last year.
When asked if he felt he legitimized the debunked conspiracy theories that the election was "stolen" from Trump by signing on to the lawsuit, Little said, "No." Little went on to say, "Each state needs to take responsibility for the sanctity of the vote in their states."
Due to COVID-19 precautions, the governor delivered his speech in the Lincoln Auditorium in the basement of the Idaho Capitol and was rebroadcast in the House and Senate chambers.
He also acknowledged the coronavirus pandemic that has, as of Monday afternoon, killed 1,534 people in Idaho, with 123,077 confirmed cases statewide recorded since last March.
“The COVID-19 reality is heartbreaking,” Little said, applauding the work of health care workers and hospitals on the front lines of managing the virus.
“They are telling the stories of COVID-19 patients – the stories of people whose organs are shutting down from an aggressive disease; the stories of young, healthy people who ended up on life support; the stories of veterans who fought enemies overseas only to suffer from a new invisible enemy here in their community,” he said.
Little handed over control over the state’s pandemic response to the seven regional public health districts, which have implemented a patchwork of regulations and restrictions.
Those decisions, or even proposals, have been met with intense opposition – including the shuttering of an in-progress health board meeting after demonstrators protested outside board members’ private homes.
Little thanked those board members, as well as school board members, some of whom have resigned or face recall elections due to their support of mask mandates or distance learning.
“I choose to remember the historic year by the innumerable acts of kindness displayed by many Idahoans over the acts of aggression by a few,” he said.
Little also unveiled his proposed $4.21 billion budget plan for the upcoming year, and his “Building Idaho’s Future” initiative that includes one of the largest one-time tax cuts in state history and significant infrastructure investments.
The tax cuts are amorphous – Little simply earmarked more than $450 million that could be used by state lawmakers in whatever way they choose. $180 million in tax relief to be spent this current fiscal year would come from a state account that’s solely funded by online sales tax revenue. Other money would come from Idaho’s general fund, which is projected to see a roughly $600 million surplus in revenue.
Little’s infrastructure push would plug in $120 million for state and local highway projects, $60 million for water projects and $35 million for a broadband internet grant program to support rural and underserved households.
He recommends the surplus also be used to fully restore the five percent cut made to all state agencies that he implemented last July.
The governor also called on lawmakers to once again invest in Idaho’s rainy day funds by $230 million. Doing so would hold in reserve 19% of the state’s operating funds, which would fall in the recommended range as advised by Moody Analytics.
Each of these proposals will ultimately be up to state lawmakers to implement as relationships already frayed over Little’s response to the pandemic.
House Speaker Scott Bedke (R-Oakley) said bills will be filed Tuesday morning in the House State Affairs Committee to limit the governor’s executive authority during an emergency as their number one priority. A proposed constitutional amendment to allow the legislature to reconvene during an emergency will also be introduced.
Bedke also pushed back against Little’s directive for state agencies to avoid testifying in-person at the legislature due to the pandemic if possible.
“To think that this virtual process takes the place of face-to-face interaction is a disservice to constituencies,” he said. “It’s not the same, it’s not as effective.”
Virtual testimony from the public is theoretically possible, though it’ll be up to each individual committee? chairperson to allow it.
Other priorities for House Republican leadership include implementing recommendations from an interim committee on property taxes, infrastructure improvements and continuing investments in education.
Earlier in the day, a group of 30 of the most right-wing Republicans, nearly all of them from the House, unveiled their own agenda. Their priorities include changing the initiative process, restricting facial recognition and AI technology and limiting vaccine requirements.
Democrats, who have been rebuffed at their attempts to either delay the legislative session or hold it virtually, are also hoping to cut residential homeowners’ property taxes, fully fund Medicaid expansion and boost affordable housing.
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