Saturday, January 17, 2009

Compassion in Action or Compassion Inaction?

A lot of rhetoric and discourse has occurred in the first week of the 2009 Idaho Legislative Session, but none more critical than how to respond to the current cuts in the Health and Welfare budget. The decision that legislators must make is whether or not their compassion will result in action or inaction.

First, let me state the obvious (from where I sit): The Department of Health and Welfare has never had enough money to really effectively meet all the demands that are asked of it. Folks that work for DHW tend to get burned out pretty fast because the workload and the emotional toll is so overwhelming. This current situation certainly cannot help matters.

In Gov. Otter's recent State of the State address he went "off-script" and commented upon a critique by an individual that those of us in state government don't really care what happens to those that are being hurt by the budget cuts. The Guv made an impassioned argument that he as well as legislators understood the difficult circumstances and cared about those being hurt. I don't question his sincerity one iota.

Still, something hasn't sat right with me when cutbacks are going forward regardless. I finally realized that this situation reminds me of something I have read many times in the Bible and remember spending a lot of time praying about due to my own struggles in the past. The verse comes from James 1:22-25 which states:

22Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does.

When considering the fact that considerable amount of the New Testament is devoted to instructing believers to help those in need it hard to ignore a plea for help. Matthew 27:45 puts a finer tip on it when Jesus proclaims, "He will reply to them, Solemnly I declare to you, in so far as you failed to do it for the least of these, you failed to do it for Me." The message is clear: inaction is not option for a believer.

In his first invocation of the 2009 Session, House Chaplain Tom Dougherty (pastor at Cloverdale Church of God) quoted one of my favorite chapters of the Bible, Romans 13. The chapter is traditionally known as one that talks about the authority that God has given government and its role. It states (13:8-10):

8Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." 10Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

All of this to say that if we truly hear the plea, how can I or any other legislator ignore it? I understand times are tough and that money is tight. However, it is these exact situations where I believe we have not only a civic responsibility, but more importantly moral commandment to help. Inaction, no matter how heartfelt, is not compassionate. Compassion requires action.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

People vs. Potholes

So what do we mean when we (Democrats in the Idaho Legislature) say, "people versus potholes"? Simply stated, we mean that in a time economic downturn it doesn't make sense to us to raise taxes on already hurting Idahoans to build roads while cutting critical services like education and professional technical programs.

Oh, but Senate Transportation Committee Chairman John McGee says, "People AND Potholes" so maybe there isn't any conflict. Well, lets consider his reasoning. According to Mcgee, potholes represents job creation. He is right it does, but not for Idahoans. You see, Idahoans aren't required to get the contracts for road jobs and there is quite a bit of very recent precedent to suggest they won't. I for one don't want to advocate for a tax increase on my constituents so that we can employ people that aren't going to help stimulate our economy.

Let's not miss something. Do roads need improving? Yes, yes, and yes. Unfortunately, as I stated above, without any certainties that Idahoans would be employed, this isn't the BEST use of or money. Idahoans will see more benefit and for a longer period by building up the workforce (more on this later). We need to stop looking at the short-term and start thinking about future.

Monday, January 12, 2009


Gov. talks about Spencer, a child with autism, and a face for who is actually being hurt by cuts. The thing I have the hardest time with is that the Gov. brings up Spencer as an example of what is hard, but also is cutting the H&W budget. Do we care? Is it showing that we care when we cut the H&W budget for the least amongst us? This is a tight budget year, but I just can't see the compassion in cutting budgets for people that actually need us to lead.


Gov. teases us that he will release results of the Healthcare Summit:

Healthy Idaho Program - Intended to help uninsured with low copays and premiums. The question is if this actually good insurance or just window dressing. More to come I am sure.

Health Data Exchange - This is just a smart idea... Allows patient information to be distributed more efficiently. Good call.

Idaho Health Profession Education Council - Reports directly to the Gov to figure out what Idaho needs and propose ideas. Having an LSCS person in charge essentially takes it out of the turf fight between U of I and ISU. Diplomatic, but if its effective, thats another question. Let's wait and see. I am hoping this works because we need more doctors in Idaho.

Education Reorganization

Basically the Govenor is suggesting that SBE needs to give Idaho Dept. of Ed the responsibilities it had prior to Marilyn Howards tenure as Superintendent. Of course, now that Tom Luna has that role, the conflict has gone away. This is the right move, but shouldn't have ever taken place in the first place.


The Plan:

1 - Accountability and Efficiency: Must be able to see measurable goals. Asked for 10% administrative cost cut. Will also have an annual accountability report. The report will say what revenue was generated and how it was spent. These are good ideas and should have happened a while ago.

2- Generating Revenue:

2 cents fuel tax for the next 5 years. $88 milllion in 5 years. Does this make sense in light of the fact that vehicles are becoming more fuel efficient?

Increase in vehicle registration fees, by age of vehicles and make (or at least thats what I thought I heard) $51 per year. If this is really what he wants to do, it could be promising. The devil will be in the details.

6% excise tax on rentals. Does that encourage tourism? I'm not sure about this, maybe its a good idea. Gonna have to think about this one...

Eliminate ethanol exemption. Well, I don't know how much this helps, but if he can get it through, that would be a coup.

Shift money from ISP. I need more info on this to be able to speak about it intelligently.

3 - Create Task Force to Review Trucker Registration: Wants to find out if trucker registration is fair and what we would need to do. Notice he isn't proposing any increased burden for truck registration and expecting the taxpayer to pay for it all. Curious if nothing else.

Project 60

The Gov. touts Project 60 as a way to add value to Idaho's economy including workforce development and job creation. The question I have is: How does this jive with his decision to cut higher ed and workforce development funds.

The Budget Proposal

Reduction of 7% for FY10.

Unfair to holdback for schools in the middle of academic school year, so Gov. will hold off for the current year. However, education will not be held harmless in 2010, reduction by 5.3%. What does this tell us about the priorities of the Gov.? Gov. not willing to use any more than 35% of rainy day funds... this is particularly difficult.

H&W will also be hurt, by 7.5%, when demand for services will be at an all time high.

Is this the way we prioritize our budget?


The Gov. talks about how he has asked agencies to holdback and says, "it will change the way we do business".

Talks about how some services have had to be cut or reduced. Also mentioned programs that don't have "statutory authority". This despite the fact that they provide important services, this to me, is the real problem. The argument is couched in the old argument of, "the proper role of government."

Budget Situation

Gov. briefly mentions the current economic climate and the high level of unemployment. Recognizes that times are tough.

Goes on to mention that Idaho Dept. of Finance has done a good job of keeping Idaho out of the financial crisis.

Gov. says that this recession will make us stronger, as those that came out of the Great Depression.

State of the State Live Blog

Well, I managed to get online and will be able to live blog Governor Otter's State of the State Address from BSU. My intention is to simply provide an off-the-cuff response to any major issues presented during the speech. I will likely go back and provide a more thorough response at a time in the future.

Opening Day

Today is the first day of the Idaho's 2009 Legislative Session. As in previous sessions, I will use this blog to communicate directly with the public. Today, in about one and a half hours, the Governor will be providing his State of the State address. My intention is to "blog" the speech live from BSU, but if techinical problems prevent me from doing so, I'll respond as soon as I can afterwards.