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citydesk (4/1/09)

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Budget writers cut public schools

Idaho budget writers snatched $109 million from Idaho public schools last week, backfilling a portion of the state cuts with some $40 million in federal stimulus money, but leaving teachers, principals and superintendents with a $69-million hole in the coming fiscal year.

It's the first time in history that the state has allocated less money for public schools than the prior year. The general fund cut amounts to 7.7 percent of the 2009 budget.

Though Democrats on the Legislature's budget panel opposed most of the cuts and the teachers' union said members were dismayed and saddened by the proposed 2010 budget, there has been little public outcry over it.

"This year has been a very, very different year," Idaho Education Association President Sherri Wood told citydesk. "Our members, educators out there across the state, understand that we are in a different circumstance than we've ever been in before."

To that end, IEA members have been walking around with Band-Aids on for a week, rather than marching on the temporary statehouse in Boise.

"To say we're going to rally over this budget, it's just very difficult to do," Wood said.

Workers' choice

The Idaho Senate delved into national labor politics last week, passing a resolution opposing the Employee Free Choice Act. The Act, which is short just a vote or three in the U.S. Senate, would make it easier for labor unions to organize workplaces by eliminating employer-controlled elections if a majority of workers sign on to the union at the outset.

Idaho's business lobby, including the Retailers and the Lodging and Restaurant associations supported the resolution, which was first introduced by Mountain Home Rep. Pete Nielsen in the House, but then pulled and reintroduced by Caldwell Sen. John McGee in the Senate.

While the best these Republican legislators can do is opine and perhaps jockey for future campaigns—McGee lives in the First Congressional District*—Idaho's federal delegation is not completely decided on workers' rights.

First District* Rep. Walt Minnick, the only Democrat in Idaho's delegation, is hoping for a compromise version of the bill before he has to vote on it in the House.

Last month, Minnick told state Democrats that he favored a measure "to ensure that every working man and woman has the unfettered opportunity to join a labor union free of corporate coercion."

Idaho AFL-CIO boss, Dave Whaley, and many of the union organizers at the Democrats' Frank Church banquet heard that as an endorsement of EFCA and Whaley said Minnick pledged support.

But Minnick said negotiations over the language of the bill in the Senate are underway and he has not decided how he'll vote.

Minnick said he thinks workers should be able to organize without coercion and that neither labor nor management should know which way they vote.

"I would prefer a bill that does give both sides in an organizing drive an opportunity to state their case," he said.

—Nathaniel Hoffman

More labor news: citydesk.boiseweekly.com.

*CORRECTION: The congressional district mentioned in this article has been corrected.

war in Iraq

U.S. CASUALTIES: As of Tuesday, March 31, 2009, 4,264 U.S. service members (including 31 Idahoans) have died since the war in Iraq began in March 2003: 3,425 in combat and 839 from non-combat-related incidents and accidents. Injured service members total 31,153. In the last week, three U.S. soldiers died.

Since President Barack Obama was inaugurated on Jan. 20, 35 soldiers have died.

Source: U.S. Dept. of Defense

IRAQI CIVILIAN DEATHS: Estimated between 91,356 and 99,743.

Source: iraqbodycount.net

COST OF IRAQ WAR: $609,458,211,192Source: costofwar.com

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