Idaho lawmakers could be asked to tackle a gas tax and workforce training in next year's legislative session. Those were two issues that came up at the Southwest Idaho Legislative Summit on September 23, one of several meetings the Idaho Chamber Alliance is conducting around the state to highlight its priorities for the 2017 Legislature.
The Alliance’s legislative priorities are posted on its website. It is focusing on several issues it has in the past, including lowering taxes for businesses and protecting urban renewal districts. At the Sept. 23 Southwest Idaho Legislative Summit, the organization invited legislators and policy advocates to explain some of the other issues they're hearing about.
Idaho Associated General Contractors will propose a gas tax to pay for public infrastructure improvements.
Idaho AGC CEO Wayne Hammon proposed a 10 cent gas tax that would be eliminated if gas rose above the price of $3 a gallon.
“The price of gas is ridiculously low right now, so let's take advantage of it,” Hammon said. “But let’s not make it permanent so that when gas rises we will drop this tax effortlessly, without even requiring a vote.”
Idaho’s gas tax was increased by 7 cents in 2015 to help repair damaged roads and bridges around Idaho, but that only covered the cost of about half of the work that Idaho’s infrastructure needed, Hammon said.
The Idaho Division of Career Technical Education will ask the Legislature for a 5 percent budget increase to expand 16 of the programs it has identified as having the longest waiting list and highest rate of job placement.
The extra $2.4 million increase would be used to attract more teachers and to buy classroom equipment for technical colleges and high schools around the state, and would increase the number of graduates from these programs from 138 per year to 248 per year.
Idaho will have 95,000 unfilled positions by 2025 and two-thirds of those will require some form of certification, according to Rep. Rick Youngblood, R-Nampa.
The state's educational institutions aren't turning out enough students with the degrees or certifications needed to meet employers' demands. Cameron Pickett, technician program manager at Western States Equipment Company, said the company has 50 positions open now - the most it has ever had.
Bad reviews on sites such as Yelp and Google can deter customers, and business owners have asked if the Idaho Legislature can help protect them.
It can't, said Bradlee Frazer, a partner at Hawley Troxell who specializes in intellectual property and internet issues.
“How would you react to a law that makes negative online reviews illegal?” Frazer said. “Not well. It would obviously be a violation of the First Amendment. The truth is there is no good legislative answer.”
See the Idaho Business Review’s full story on the legislative summit.
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