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.


Jennifer Grush-Dale, District 18 Voter said...

Speaking of the Governor's activities, I want to comment about his halting of the Capitol building expansion. I agree that the need for the expansion needs more examination and should therefore be stopped for a while. There is one aspect of the project I would like to see continued. As I understand it, one of the items that would have been taken care of during this process was replacing the elevators inside the existing building. As a person with a disability who has visited the Capitol many times and used those elevators, I can tell you first hand they are some of the scariest elevators I've ever used! If there is any way to continue that piece of the project, regardless of how the rest of it is decided, that would be wonderful.


Branden Durst said...

Thanks for the comment. One issue to consider, however, is how stopping the work will impact the bonds that have already been cleared. If doing so could end up costing more money to the taxpayers, then we should be weary of stopping for too long. In regards to your comments regarding elevators, you are completely on target. The Statehouse isn't ADA compliant, and if for no other reason the renovation (not including the proposed wings) must continue.

Alan (Idablue) said...

It's great to see a legislator blogging. I hope this experiment works and you get some good dialog.

RE the state employee compensation. I agree, it's important to watch for fuzzy math. An employee making $30,000 would get a $1,500 raise. If the 6.5 percent number is based on the salary, it's a net loss. If the benefits get cut 6.5%, probably not because benefits amounts are less than salary amounts.

More importantly, I think, if the Gov wants to phase in salaries over years to bring them to market (which I support) he ought to also phase in the changes to the benefit package. Don't change the benefits all at once in one year but string out raises over several. It's logically inconsistent.

Alan said...

BTW, you might want to set up your blog for comment verification. If not you;re at risk for blog spam and having some nasty links ending up in comments. Happened to Brandi Swindell; she ended up with a bunch of links to porn sites.