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Legislative Wish List


As the 2008 Legislative session prepares to kick off in January, groups representing an array of interests are readying to promote their own issues. But somewhat surprisingly, many diverse groups share the same concerns.

According to both The Common Interest and the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce's list of legislative priorities, transportation is No. 1. And it's in that position by a large margin.

While the Chamber's list represents what businesses in Boise are focusing on, Common Interest, a nonpartisan political think tank, develops its list with input from Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, 12 legislative leaders and seven members of the statewide press, including BW editor Shea Andersen.

During its polling done earlier this fall, all 20 people identified transportation as a key issue facing the state. Common Interest admits that finding consensus on exactly what needs to be done will be challenging, but that nearly everyone believes something needs to be done to fund both roads and mass transit.

The Chamber has championed the local option sales tax as a way to address the issue that would allow both rural and urban areas to benefit.

Performance pay for teachers ranked No. 2 in the Common Interest poll, with Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna's proposal for pay increases and bonuses getting a lot of attention.

The Chamber is focusing on education as well, but in the form of sufficient funding for the new College of Western Idaho.

Election reform took third place in the Common Interest poll. The organization was a leader in the move to pass primary election reform last year, an issue that has dominated headlines in recent months as a group of Republicans attempted to force the closure of party primaries. Common Interest plans to reintroduce a bill which would create a modified closed primary.

The group also plans to introduce bills to allow voting by mail, and a voluntary option to accept strict fund-raising limits in exchange for public campaign financing.

Ranking No. 4 on the Common Interest list is the issue of overcrowded prisons. While this issue is a familiar one, it has taken on a new facet, as powerful and wealthy private prison companies have pushed to have Idaho law changed to allow for private ownership of prisons.

Gov. Otter has come out in support of the change, but many worry about bringing in prisoners from out of state, and the effect it could have on crime deterrent programs. Additionally, the two leading private prison companies both donated to Otter's last campaign.

Other issues in the Common Interest top 10 include: eliminating tax loopholes, reducing the grocery tax, water, access and availability to health care and early childhood education.

Both Common Interest and the Chamber agree that the issue of personal property tax will be one the Legislature addresses this year. Both groups would like to see an end to the tax which charges businesses for things like furniture, equipment and computers they already own.

What issues actually get taken up by the Legislature remain to be seen, but it's a safe bet both Common Interest and the Chamber will be joining the crowd pushing to get their issues heard.