Sunday, December 2, 2007

Off-topic Commentary: The BCS Solution

I know that this blog in the past has been reserved for Idaho politics, but consider this my diversification plan.

As nearly any college football fan will tell you, there always seems to be more BS in the BCS than is acceptable. For years, the folks at the BCS have tried to fix problems as they have arisen. The band aids have almost become tradition in the college football world. Except this is the sort of tradition like your creepy uncle getting drunk and hitting on your mom. Not the sort of tradition that you'd like to continue. So, why continue it?

The BCS is to certain interests in college football as the farm bill has been to agribusiness. The BCS is a cash cow. As a result those interests, which are a very powerful, have been reluctant to let go of their golden egg. Really, you can't blame them. Asking the BCS powers-that-be to relinquish control is like asking OPEC to give up its control of crude oil markets.

Being that as it may, it doesn't justify the status quo. If I were the king of the college football kingdom, here is what I would do:

12 Team Playoff

Automatic qualifiers:

  1. BCS and non-BCS conference champions ranked in the top 16

  2. Independents ranked in top 12

Automatic qualifier tiebreak (if necessary):

  1. Top independent within top 12 (if multiple qualify)

  2. Conference champions in order of rank until all slots are full

At large selection (if necessary):

  1. Highest ranked non-BCS conference champion if all other non-BCS conference champions failed to qualify automatically (must be top 25)

  2. Any teams within top twelve that failed to qualify automatically to be filled based upon order of ranking

Playoff procedures:

  1. Top four conference champions OR top three conference champion and top independent if top independent is ranked higher than any of the top four conference champions receive by for first round

  2. Match pairing for first round based upon random selection

  3. Teams from same conference may not be paired against each other in first round

  4. Teams that played previously during the regular season may not be paired against each other in the first round unless impossible to do otherwise

  5. Playoff game location to be neutral site (bowl game location to be decided by bowl commissioners)

  6. Final four games play in current BCS bowls (selection for which match-up plays where to be decided by BCS)

  7. Championship game to be played at neutral site decided by BCS

FYI - The bowls I used in the image are just examples not necessarily what would be done.

Let me know your thoughts!

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Community College HECK YES!

Okay, so I have blogged on this before, but given the proximity to the vote on community colleges I thought doing so again might be useful. Seeing as how I have already outlined all the reasons why you should support the community college, I'd like to explore why not.

Some obstructionist points-of-view:

1) The "We Already Have A Community College" Camp
2) The "Don't Raise My Property Taxes" Camp
3) The "Change Is Bad, Mmmkay" Camp

I'll address them in order.

The first obstructionists feel as though the satellite branch of Treasure Valley Community College (TVCC) in Caldwell is already satisfactorily fulfilling the demand for a community college. While it is true that TVCC is doing well to offer some entry level curriculum, it is not in a position to offer capital intensive programs (i.e. nursing, mechanists programs, etc.). These are programs in very high demand. Consider this one point: If TVCC were prepared to offer capital intensive programs in Caldwell, then why did MotivePower (a major employer located in District 18) have to open it's second plant in Ontario for training purposes? TVCC didn't seem inclined to offer the welding and other industrial arts programs at that time (a couple of years ago) and the same is likely true. This is because the financial support for TVCC Caldwell comes from solely from tuition. Capital intensive programs are expensive, thus making them cost prohibitive to offer with only tuition financial support. Ultimately, both TVCC and the so-called College of Western Idaho can coexist. This isn't really a reason to vote no.

The second obstructionist position is the Jim Auld type (no slander intended or implied). These are the folks that see any increase in any tax as undesirable, no matter how worthy the cause. To most of them tax is evil and should be avoided, always. Unfortunately, that is not the way this government is intended to work. Taxes are the way of sharing the burden and giving what we can afford to give for the collective betterment. That doesn't mean we tax ourselves into poverty that is counterintuitive. A new community college would be an economic stimulus to the Treasure Valley and it would pay for itself many times over, just like its counterparts NIC and CSI have done. The property tax cost for the community college would be something like $11.50 per $100,000 of taxable property. That is a blue light special on aisle You.

Finally, you could take the curmudgeon approach. The reality is that there are people in this world that see any change as a bad thing. I am willing to guess that they don’t know what a blog is, so I don’t have to worry about too much backlash from them reading this post. Their position is pretty simple, which why it doesn’t hold water. The idea that we should freeze time (like freezing your credit report after you’ve discovered you were the victim of identity theft, see my legislation next session allowing you to do so) and leave things like they were is neither feasible or desirable. Change can be a good thing, leading to innovation and improvement in the way things are done. A new community college would be a positive development. The simplicity of the argument, as I mention, leads to its downfall. The world is a complex place (on a side note it could probably stand get a bit more simplified) and solutions to compete with the complexity mustn’t be ignored. In some cases, complex solutions can lead to simplified results. That’s what I think the community college does, by making it easier for people to get trained and find work, which makes it easier for them to provide for their families. Everybody wins!

The debate will continue and I hope to hear your feedback if you have any. In case you were wondering, I fully support the development of a community college and will be voting YES on May 22nd. If you still have doubts, let me know what they are, I’d love to speak with you about them. If you are planning on voting yes, I’d like to know that too!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Ironic, isn't it (H246)

Ironic, isn't it? When the House Revenue and Taxation Committee rejected H246, better known as the bill to allow for local option taxes for mass transit, it actually made a decision counter intuitive to everything that it claimed to be fighting for. Let me explain.

The so-called "Tax Hawks" on the Committee regularly say they want to do virtually anything they can to lower the taxes their constituents (or major corporate donors) pay. So given the fact that local option taxes would reduce the amount of transportation dollars needed by the Treasure Valley (assuming it were to pass), thus resulting in less tax burden, its curious at a minimum that they would reject this proposal. You see, as access to mass transit increases, then the need to continuing expanding lanes on I-84 and other road infrastructure decreases. This isn't just some liberal-hippie construct, its a fact of life that has played itself out throughout the country (even in our neighboring state of Utah who have embraced mass transit in major way).

The next irony is the anti-local control component. Throughout campaigns we hear how local control is important and how elected officials will give the power back to the people. These words even come out of the mouths of the members of the Committee, although they fail repeatedly to live that out. All I am saying is that if you really believe in local control then legislate like it.

Finally, there is the issue of air quality. Now, I know you are probably scratching your head on how this could possibly be an irony. Well, it follows similar logic as the first example. The folks that opposed the local option tax, also tend to really love their corporate donors. Now, I'd be remiss if I didn't said that virtually everyone benefits from corporate donation. Although I never really have, most legislators do. So how do corporate donors and air quality tie together? Simple. If the Treasure Valley continues its streak of poor air quality it will go in to what the EPA calls non-attainment, which could be avoided if we had better access to mass transit. Non-attainment will result in the Feds coming down hard and implementing a multitude of very restrictive environmental policies. These policies are sure to cramp everyone's style and pocketbooks, including the corporate donors. As a result, the margins will get smaller and they will have less money to donate to reelect the obstructionist that claimed to be legislating in their interests. Ironic, isn't it?

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Pre-k? Forget about it...

On Monday I experienced my first defeat on the floor of the House, but really it was the children of Idaho that lost out. Rep. Donna Pence and I tried our best to get our resolution, HCR18, through but it was opposed by the Keep Mom Home Coalition (KMHC). As you may recall, the KMHC first flexed its muscles when it said, "heck no" to mandating even limited requirements for Idaho childcare providers. Only in Idaho can you be a convicted sexual predator, meth addict, or just about anything else and still be permitted to get paid to watch someone else's children.

In regards to HCR18, it tried to do a few simple things. First, it would have had the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and Department of Education work together to develop some standards for early childhood education. Second, it would have had DHW create a quality rating system for daycares so that parents would know what they were getting themselves into. Last, it would have tied the reimbursement rates for the Idaho Child Care Program (child care subsidy for low income families) to the programs with higher ratings. This one was a no brainer, just ask Idaho Statesman Editorial Board master Kevin Ritchert:

This isn't the last fight on this issue this legislative session, however. Yesterday the Senate narrowly passed another bill aimed at helping young children (S1079) by permitting school districts to offer services to 4 year olds, so long as no state resources were used in the process. Again, this bill looks pretty harmless, but that doesn't mean that KMHC won't do its darndest to fight against this bill.

I'll try to keep you all up-to-date as changes become available.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Score one for Captain Obvious (H113)

Well, again I am amazed at the legislative process. Yesterday, we (Idaho State Representatives) spent a good deal of our time "debating" a bill that accomplishes virtually nothing. The bill, H113, was couched by Republican leadership as minimum wage bill, but that is probably an overly generous title. The bill had two basic provisions, they were:
  1. Set the minimum wage rate in Idaho to the Federal rate
  2. Freeze the tipped credit amount at $3.35

Okay, so Captain Obvious might say, "Doesn't Idaho have to match the Federal rate anyway?" YES! And that's the point as to why this bill was so worthless. By passing H113, which I voted against (along with 17 Dems and 1 Republican) we accomplish nothing other than ensuring that tipped employees get less money and Idaho's low wage earners (more than just teenagers) will always be the lowest paid in the country.

As many of you already know, I am not the sort of partisan hack that will bash on the other party just to make myself feel good. I find value in ideas not party caucus positions. That is, if a legislator comes out with a plan, I judge it on the merits of the plan, not the person or party responsible. All this to say that I am not writing this to bash on Republican House Leadership. I am merely pointing out the obvious flaw in the plan, it doesn't do anything!

Let me give you an example. Let's say the Feds gave us a law requiring we all eat one Idaho potato per day. What we accomplished with H113 would be like Idaho passing a law saying that we would require people to eat one Idaho potato per day. The bill wouldn't do anything, because the Feds would have already been requiring us to do it.

The tipped credit issue is a bit more complicated and I don't really want to address it at this point, but in short, it means tipped employees will be worse off by being required to earn more tips to get the compensation that would have.

I have been a proponent for raising the minimum wage for some time. I think it is unfortunate that Idaho always lags behind in wages, and the minimum wage is no different. A lot of us see H113 as a political maneuver that was meant to make Democrats look anti-minimum wage. So, if in the next election you get a piece of mail or a robocall that says I am against the minimum wage, you'll know where I really stand.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

I won't back down...

Yesterday on the House floor I stood up for the people of District 18 and tried one last ditch effort to get a comprehensive approach to community colleges before the full body. Did I know it was a long shot? Of course, but that wasn’t the point. The point was that I believe being leader means leading even when it may be unpopular. In the process I ruffled some feathers and was the first legislator this session to be called out of order. Why would I do that? Simple, I wanted to make good on the three promises I made to my constituents during the campaign, which were: 1) I would be fully committed to serving them, 2) I would be responsive to their needs, and 3) I would be a catalyst for change in the State Legislature. The last point may result in some people getting a little upset, but I have found in my life those in control never like the idea of change. That doesn't mean it is not worth seeking out, however. To that end, I honestly don't believe I was voted in to office to maintain the status quo. The residents of District 18 that I met, regardless of party affiliation (or lack thereof), demanded a fresh start. I am giving them that. I will continue to fight for what I believe is right. Will I make the same "mistake" twice and not follow the decorum of the House? No. I will respect the proces and work within it, but that doesn't preclude me from standing up for the people that sent me to the Statehouse. To quote Tom Petty, “I won’t back down.”

Monday, February 5, 2007

Local option taxes for mass transit

As the Treasure Valley continues to grow the infrastructure must do the same in order to avoid significant expense in the future. To reduce these long term costs, I personally support allowing local governments to ask voters to tax themselves for certain projects, in this case specifically transportation solutions. This concept is referred to as local option taxes and widely used throughout the United States. Giving local governments more control seems to be no-brainer in a state like Idaho, but not in the case of tax policy. In fact, Idaho is one of the most restrictive states upon local governments in the country when it comes to tax policy. I believe in the people, and thus, if they are willing enter in to an agreement to tax themselves, I say so be it. I truly believe that people in the local area know best in many cases, especially when it comes to transportation.

But why local option taxes now? First, there is vicious storm on the horizon and if we don't act now the citizens of the Treasure Valley will lose out in a major way. This storm is the worsening air quality that will inevitably lead the Treasure Valley to falling into something known as non-attainment. To be brief, non-attainment is condition assessed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) when a community's air shed reaches substandard levels for a period of three years. Once this happens, the EPA is required to force the offending community to make a plan to fix the problem and get back to attainment status. This is a costly venture and can cause significant negative economic impacts. Not good. Increased access to mass transit, which can help be made possible by local option taxes, will take cars off the road resulting in better air quality.

The second reason I believe the Legislature needs to approve local option taxes ASAP is the long-term nature of capital improvement projects like mass transit. In other words, if we want to have a functioning mass transit system in 2015 we need to start planning and funding it right away. If we are content to plan for today's needs, we will always be a decade behind (have you driven on Eagle Road recently?). It is decisions where the payoff is in the distant future that are always the most difficult for elected officials, but that doesn't make it unworthy of our attention. In fact, I would contend it makes equally if not more necessary. Leaders have to have vision and this is a prime example as to why.

I won't go in to my personal views as to what mass transit system should look like at this point, but I will make sure to do so at some point in the future. I hope this is a compelling argument, but if not, let me know why. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Community Colleges

Well, it’s been ten days since my last post so I thought I should write something -- I tried to make up for the delay with length!

I have chosen to discuss community colleges in this post because it is germane for two reasons. First, this past week was "Higher Education Week" at the Statehouse, which resulted in a lot of discussion on the issue. Second, in the upcoming weeks the House Education Committee will be faced with the important task of helping decide the fate of a potential community college in the Treasure Valley.

As I said, community colleges was one of the main topics of this past week with all of the public post-secondary institution presidents converging on the Statehouse to testify in JFAC and House Committees. What became clear, as the week progressed (I already knew, but it was reinforced) was critical role that community colleges play in education system. The main selling points, if you have yet to be converted, are low cost and high flexibility. These are benefits that can not be attained by what BSU President Bob Kustra referred to as, "senior institutions" for good, bad, or indifferent.

There has been some dissent, however, by certain legislators that a public community college is unnecessary. They first point to the existence of the Treasure Valley Community College in Caldwell -- it is an institution ran by the State of Oregon. Yes, that’s right, OREGON figured out what we needed in the Valley before we did. That is sad. The problem remains however, that as an institution of Oregon, we have no more right to change it than we would a private institution. That's called oversight, and that's one of the primary benefits to a public education system.

The next point that was made was that there are private firms offering education-like courses and they could easily be utilized. There are several things wrong with this beyond the lack of oversight, such as:
  • Quality (ITT and Steven Henagar aren't known for their academic prowess)
  • Cost (these places are much more expensive than a community college)
  • Financial Aid (most of them don't offer it, and if they do, its very restricted)
  • Transferability (because they lack quality, a respectable four year institution will not transfer the credits earned at these places)
  • Leakage (because they don't transfer, their is no incentive to stay in Idaho)

The point is, no solution outside of a community college will work (I am not going to address the “community college services” argument made by ISU President Vailas). So what is the solution, or rather, how do we get there? Well, in my mind a potential solution needs to incorporate at least a few things.

  1. Reduce the majority needed to pass the community college taxing district from 66% to at most 60% (originally the threshold was only a simple majority).
  2. Ensure local control to allow the institution to be flexible and responsive.
  3. Provide state, local, and private funding to get “buy-in” from all that will benefit from the community college.
  4. State funding must also be set as a scale to the so-called “full-time equivalent headcount.” This ensures that as the college grows (or shrinks) the state funding will do the same.

I could go on forever on this, but I’d rather have you read the whole thing so I’ll stop here. Please let me know what you think!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

High School Redesign & Luna's Budget

High School Redesign

On Tuesday the House Education Committee (of which I am a member), voted to approve new rules increasing the math and science requirements for high school students. Initially, I was skeptical about the requirements as I was unsure if they were in the best interest of our students. As I listened, I concluded that the changes made from last year were significant and put at ease most of my concerns.

Specifically, Dwight Johnson (Board of Education Director), made it clear that a cross disciplinary approach was integral to the new standards. As a major proponent of financial education, I was happy to hear that this course might be one of many that could be included as a math course. Also, I was happy to hear that these alternative math courses (my language not his) would reflect the needs of students, including non-college bound students. My remaining concern, requiring all students to take a math course their final year, was trumped by all the other benefits that I saw in this rule change.

Luna's Budget
Today I heard Tom Luna's budget proposal. As a caveat, I haven't had a chance to go through and analyze it, so this is only my initial take. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised about what I heard. Some highlights include:
  • Dual enrollment for high school students (sorta like Running Start)
  • Salary floor raised for teachers ($31,000)
  • Classroom supply stipend ($350)

The dual enrollment proposal is something I have been talking up for a while. Running Start, as it is referred to in Washington, is the perfect model of the dual enrollment concept. By taking students out of high school classroom (for at least part of the day) and into the college setting we are both saving money and better educating our students. It's a real win-win (provided the Legislature steps up and takes care of the community college issue).

Increased teacher pay is (almost) always a good thing and so of course I am happy to see it (not to mention the fact that my family will be a direct beneficiary of it). The only downside is that teacher in smaller school districts will most likely have to go even longer now without a raise. The stipend will also be helpful as teacher are routinely required to use their own money to buy supplies. Would you ask someone that works in an office to buy their own calculator or paper clips?

There were other items presented (more money for textbooks, increased discretionary spending, more money for technology, etc.), but these three were the ones that really stood out for me. I'll keep the blog posted as I learn more and as always, your comments are welcome.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

(Delayed) Response to Otter's State of the State

Well, I have had a few days to think about it and I am ready to give my thoughts on the Governor's speech. This may be a bit off-the-cuff, so please give me a little leeway. To organize this response, I am going to go through the subjects addressed by Otter and then address the subjects he failed to mention. As always, your comments are welcome.

1) Community Colleges - Otter's recommendation to lower the vote necessary to create a community college district from 66% to 60% is not new, but still good to hear. I am a bit disappointed he placed restriction on his support by requiring the vote to occur in conjunction with a General Election. In regards to funding, the five million dollars he mentioned is a good place to START. I do feel, however, that funding levels and enrollment levels should have a positive relationship. That is, if enrollment is high, funding should be high and if enrollment is low, funding should be low.

2) State Employee Compensation - This is another example of "fuzzy math." After listening to "Friday Focus" on KBSU (NPR), which also reviewed the Governor's speech, I heard something very interesting. Otter said he wanted to move away from the low pay, high benefits model. I guess he meant it. Otter's proposal is actually a net loss for state employees. To call this a raise is like calling a wildfire responsible forest management. The numbers are easy, if, as a state employee the most your base income and increase is 5% (the merit pay bonus proposed by Otter) and your health insurance benefit premiums are to increase by at least 6.5% (based upon the current projections), then you are looking at least a net loss of -1.5%. I suppose Otter wants to move to the low pay, low benefits model. Didn't he say he wanted to retain good state employees?

3) Grocery Tax - Well, I am torn. To be honest, I didn't expect the Governor to come out with such a fair solution. Notice, I used the word fair, not superior. Otter's proposal smells of egalitarianism, and that, in this case is a good thing I think. While I still think that there are other better ways to address this issue, this is the best I think we can expect from a Republican. The question is whether or not the Republicans that actually make the decisions (legislators) will take him up on it. I am hoping so.

4) Organizational Restructuring - I don't really have a lot to say about this... Eliminating the Dept. of Administration was probably just a step Otter had to take in order to separate the Department of Commerce and Labor. To bad for Keith Johnson, that guy just can't catch a break. Debbie Field was also nominated to be Drug Czar, I bet no one saw that coming (that's internet sarcasm). Honestly, I wish Debbie all the best and I hope she can be successful in her new position.

5) GARVEE Bonding - If this wasn't the most political stunt of the day. It was also perfect example of the Governors lack of leadership skills, or at minimum his willingness to step on limb and stand up for something. To say he supports GARVEE but won't provide input as to how its spent he is simply giving a non-answer. That's like saying I support hiring a good football coach, but not saying who that might be. The fact of the matter is that the Governor was elected to give his opinion. On a side note, I hope he remembers his reluctance to instruct on this issue when he faces other issues he really doesn't know anything about, for consistency purposes of course.

6) Pre-K Education - The Governor missed a chance to lead on this important issue. Pre-K education can substantially and significantly improve student performance throughout his or hers academic career. Too bad.

7) Treasure Valley Air Quality - Again, nothing was said. I hope the voters in Treasure Valley noticed.

8) Local Option Taxes - Alright, no this isn't "Bash and Butch Day" but seriously, this is a big issue! Not only is this a "local control" issue but also one that "increases customer service." Weren't those major tenets to Otter's speech (at least the latter). I would like to see the Governor to show some leadership on this issue.

9) Health insurance - Not a word. This only one of the single most important issues facing our State.

Alright, there is probably more I could say, but this should suffice. I look forward to hearing your feedback.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Things I'll be listening for during Otter's first State of the State Address

Well, this is the first OFFICIAL blog to be posted by an elected official on the floor of the Idaho House of Representatives. I hope that you all find this blog useful and provide questions or comment should you have any.

Now, on to the purpose of this post: Otter's State of the State Address.

I am eagerly anticipating the State of the State Address by newly elected Governor C.L. Butch Otter. I am hopeful that the Governor is able to answer questions relating to:
  • Air Quality in the Treasure Valley
  • Community Colleges, including funding recommendations
  • Pre-K education
  • Repeal of the unfair Grocery Tax
  • Minimum Wage
  • Health Insurance needs

I'll provide my own personal response after the official Democratic response tomorrow. To be sure, I am excited about this Legislative Session and will work my hardest to ensure that the issues facing District 18 are resolved.

Monday, January 1, 2007

Happy New Years from Glendale!!!

As my first official duty as a state representative, I will be attending the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl! If it works for the governor, it should work for me, right? The game will be an amazing opportunity for Boise State to showcase the University, Boise, and Idaho on a national stage.

As a side note, I hope BSU wins not just because they are my team, but also because what it might mean to the BCS. To be sure, the BCS powers-that-be should be weary of a 13-0 BSU team. How do you tell them they don't have a right be Nat'l Champs? Anyway, this all conjecture... BSU has to get it done on the field. My prediction... A good game!