- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 13, 2015

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - The Idaho lawmaker who has the power to kill tax bills says there will be no new tax breaks unless beginning teacher salaries rise to $40,000 a year.

Republican Sen. Jeff Siddoway threatened to hold proposed tax cuts hostage in order to get more funding for Idaho’s public schools even before the legislative session kicked off on Monday. However, Siddoway sharpened his demand on Tuesday, saying teacher salaries must increase sooner than what Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter has outlined.

Siddoway is the chairman of the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee. It’s the first stop after tax bills clear the House. Chairmen have the coveted authority to kill or move legislation by approving what bills get a hearing.

“I can handle pressure from any direction,” Siddoway said. “This is the right thing to do.”

Otter asked lawmakers Monday to increase teacher salaries to $40,000 over the next five years during his State of the State address. His proposal would bump new teacher pay from $31,750 to $32,800 at the end of June, when the new fiscal year begins. He also requested that lawmakers approve reducing Idaho’s individual and corporate income tax rate below 7 percent over the next five years. Otter has also championed eliminating the personal property tax, a tax that business owners pay on equipment that they use for their business.

On Tuesday, Siddoway joined state budget writers to listen to a more detailed account of the governor’s proposed education plan.

Otter’s financial adviser David Hahn told the Joint Finance Appropriations budget committee that the governor is being cautious implementing higher salaries for teachers. Quoting a familiar line Otter often recites on improving Idaho’s education system, Hahn said this year was “written in pen, and the next few years have been written in pencil.”

Back in September, the State Board of Education recommended the legislature add $175 million in funding for a new pay grid that would be phased-in over five years. The pay grid, known as the career ladder, would be tied to stricter teacher-certification requirements that lawmakers are also expected to approve this year.

For Siddoway, though, he says that teachers in his district in eastern Idaho are leaving in droves because of the low pay.

“If we have a bleeder, let’s stop the bleeding right away,” Siddoway said. “Rather than slow it down for five years.”

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