Fiscal austerity, vehicle insurance, and more

| February 2, 2020 1:00 AM

Eleven years into an unprecedented period of strong economic growth, there is a renewed emphasis on making sure we’re ready for a potential downturn. Idaho is strong in its position as seen by our vibrant economy, low unemployment, and high population growth. People like Idaho and for good reason.

A basic tenet of our past success is fiscal conservatism. We operate with a balanced budget and put money away for rainy days. The Budget Stabilization Fund is the primary pot of money for times when tax revenues are less than budget requirements. There is a cap in law on how much money can be kept in the stabilization fund, currently set at 10 percent of previous year tax revenues. We are considering raising the fund limit to 15 percent.I support the effort because we have changed some of our other rainy day funds.

In 2008, we went into the recession with four different stabilization funds plus cash on hand. The reserve funds at the time totaled to 22 percent of previous year revenues. The funds were used wisely, but over the course of three years, were depleted. Today, we have three reserve funds plus cash on hand which total 16 percent of previous year revenues. With less in reserve, a downturn would force more difficult decisions about budget cuts. Deficit spending obligates future taxpayers for today’s services. Building reserve funds puts an obligation on today’s taxpayer for future services. We hope to strike the appropriate balance.

Vehicle insurance verification is going into effect soon. In the 2019 session, a bill was signed into law requiring the transportation department verify that all Idaho registered vehicles have liability insurance. The intent was good. The details of implementation may not be so straightforward. The Idaho Transportation Department is working with the Department of Insurance and all the insurance carriers that sell in Idaho. Many of us, including myself, have already received letters stating that the new system cannot verify insurance for a vehicle we own. The status of insurance is checked monthly. If your registered vehicle does not show insurance two months in a row, then thirty days after your second notice, your registration will be revoked.

The new law does not require that you maintain insurance on a vehicle you are not driving. To keep your registration when taking insurance off a vehicle, fill out ITD Form 3119 to inform the transportation department that you are taking the vehicle off the roads for a period of time. If you self-insure or have a vehicle on a commercial insurance policy, fill out ITD Form 3117 to inform ITD you do have insurance.

If your registration is revoked, you will need to provide proof of insurance coverage to ITD, through the Boise office, prior to going to the Department of Motor Vehicles locally. The reinstatement fee is $75. Please keep in mind that the County DMV office is not responsible for the program.

I voted against the bill last year because I think the law, as written, places extra burden on the law-abiding citizen while not necessarily changing the number of uninsured. Representative Heather Scott, Representative Sage Dixon, and I have all been working to improve the law. We’ll keep you posted.

There are two items of interest under consideration for funding in the current budget cycle. First, the Idaho Department of Lands is proposing a pilot program for endowment land timber sales. The idea is called a “sort sale.” The program will break out the harvest and transport of logs into a separate contract from the delivered timber. The timber will be sold by species, hence the phrase a sort sale. The other project close to home is the next phase of the Clark Fork River Delta restoration project. I anticipate both items will receive funding.

Sen. Jim Woodward represents District 1, Bonner and Boundary counties, in the Idaho Senate. He can be reached at