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Education, transportation dominate 2015 Idaho Legislature

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BOISE, Idaho — Idaho lawmakers finished the 2015 legislative session early Saturday morning, boasting major funding increases for Idaho's teachers and completing a last-minute proposal to address the state's crumbling roads and bridges.

The session stretched nearly two weeks past what legislative leaders optimistically estimated they would adjourn, winning a spot as one of the top five longest legislative sessions in Idaho's history. The longest session was in 2009, when it lasted 119 days.

Tensions between both chambers caused long delays over a $95 million transportation proposal for most of Friday. Lawmakers spilled into the early hours of Saturday, however, to debate the merits of the proposal.

Other highlights of the session included a sweeping plan to raise salaries for Idaho's teachers took center stage for most of the legislative session. Lawmakers agreed to fund a 7.4 percent increase to the education budget, raising rookie teacher pay to $37,000 over the next five years.

"This has been a monumental session from an education standpoint," House Education Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, told The Associated Press. "It took us a while to get it right, but in the end, we had unanimous support. That just doesn't happen."

But efforts to fund Idaho's crumbling roads and bridges developed late in the session, pushing lawmakers a full two weeks past their expected end date.

Several failed attempts at compromise prompted a special six-person joint panel to hammer out a deal for $95 million — just a third of the state's annual $262 million roads funding shortfall.

"A few days ago, people said this will go down as the legislative session that they got nothing done. They were wrong," said President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Idaho Falls.

But the Legislature didn't accomplish all of its goals. A sweeping tax plan by House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, sailed through the GOP-controlled House but died on the Senate side.

"We definitely need to make Idaho more competitive and we will look at the tax structure in the state next year," Moyle said. "I'm hopeful we can come up with a solution."

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