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.