Friday, March 27, 2009

Annual We Hate Idaho's Children Week

In what has become an annual tradition in the Idaho Legislature, this week can officially be anointed the 2009 We Hate Idaho's Children Week.

So what set this week apart from all the others? Drum roll maestro...
  • Majority party budget writers embrace the fallacy that unprecedented cuts to the public education budget are necessary (totalling over $100 million) despite having over $150 million in rainy day funds in the bank.
  • Majority party members of the House Health and Welfare Committee all but close the door on the passage of a statewide daycare licensing bill intended to keep pedophiles out of the child care business for the fifth year in a row.
  • Despite opposition from nearly all education experts, the Majority members of the House approve passage of HB256, which, according to the experts, will likely lead to unsafe transportation conditions for school children.
  • Majority party budget writers cut funding for treatment to children with Cystic Fibrosis, likely leading to increase hospitalization and probably much worse.

While my tone is in jest, the truth is that none of these misdeeds are a laughing matter. My question is, when will the Idaho Legislature stop doing things to hurt Idaho children? As a parent I know it can't be soon enough.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Got one through!

I am pleased to announce that my joint effort, HB 84, with Rep. Donna Pence (D-25B) was passed out of the House 0n Friday by a vote of 57 to 7, with 6 legislators absent.

The bill, for those of you that don't know, will allow parents of children that turn five years old after September 1st and attend a private kindergarten, to continue on to 1st grade so long as they can pass an assessment that is approved by the State Department of Education. It also provides a new safeguard for children that attend an out-of-state kindergarten that turned five after September 1st by requiring them to also take the assessment to demonstrate they are prepared to enter first grade.

Really, this is a pretty small change that will impact less than a few dozen students a year. The most classic example is one that I coincidentally heard of yesterday while visiting my doctor. He has a son that was born on September 2nd, one day too late. Under the current law his son has to wait another year or commute to an out-of-state private kindergarten if he wants to start first grade next year with the rest of his peer group. Whats worse is his son is very big for his age and will likely dwarf the other children when he starts kindergarten in the fall. Anyway, this is a good change and hopefully parents will feel more empowered to do the right thing for their children.

The next stop for the bill is the Senate Education Committee. I will be contact the chair of that committee first thing Monday to get a hearing scheduled. Updates will be provided as they are available.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Transportation Showdown

Governor Otter gets his proverbial day in court tomorrow. The court of public opinion in the Idaho House of Representatives. The Guv is still pushing hard to raise taxes to fund transportation and tomorrow will be a showdown.

While I don't know for certain as to what will happen, I will say that no matter what happens tomorrow, this won't be the last draw. In reality, I feel for the Guv on this one. He is between a rock and a hard place. Mechanically, to get support from Group X he must use Solution A. By choosing Solution A, he has lost support of Group Y. If he were to go with Solution B, he'd likely lose support of Group X. The problem in this particular situation is that there are multiple groups and solutions.

The question is what solution gives us the right mix of groups to get something done. That seems to be as elusive as a good paying job in today's economy. While I personally believe that,
"now is no time to be raising taxes on Idaho families," I also believe that Idahoans need to invest in its transportation infrastructure. The problem I have with the Guv's proposal is it lacks creativity and long-term thinking. Rather than try to do something innovative, the Guv has relied on a 1950s solution to fund a 21st century problem.

The Guv's proposal is essentially to increase the gas use tax and registration fees. Let's look at the gas use tax more closely. First, everyone, including the Guv and his staff, will concede that there are diminishing returns with the gas tax. As vehicles get more and more fuel efficient or use other sources of energy, the gas tax becomes less and less useful.

What isn't being well publicized with this tax is that truckers, who I think even they would admit cause a significant amount of wear and tear to our roads, get refunds for any gas they don't use in Idaho that they buy from here. In other words, if a trucker fills up in Mountain Home and goes down to Nevada, he gets to be reimbursed for any amount of tax on the fuel he has remaining. If he has 15 gallons remaining, he gets the tax he paid on that 15 gallons back.

More importantly, the fuel use tax can only be used for roads. That may seem a bit self-explanatory, but it is something I have a real fundamental problem with. You see, the Guv wants to make it more expensive to drive a vehicle, but his tax doesn't provide citizens a natural alternative mode of transportation. This means that you can't, for all intents and purposes, opt-out.

Now, I still don't think its a good idea to be raising taxes, but if that's what we must do, shouldn't we also provide an alternative? I think so. Okay so you may be asking yourself, "Fine, do you have any better ideas?" Oh, I am so glad you asked!!! Please allow me to elaborate.

First, if it were up to me, I'd scrap the registration fees the way it is being proposed with exception to the commercial and farm vehicles. With personal cars, rather than base the registration rate on year of the car, I would make it by weight. The heavier your car, the more damage you do to the road, the more you pay. I used to think it was a good idea to set the rate by value of the vehicle. Perhaps there is a way to give those that are especially low income a waiver or reduced rate. That way you aren't pricing poor people with "old clunkers" out of the market. I wouldn't change the rate for truckers, but don't worry, they aren't going to get off Scott-free.

Next, I'd also scrap the fuel use tax. In its place, I'd use a tax on fuel. The difference between the two is that tax on fuel is a tax on the transaction. That means that truckers don't get to apply for a refund and the State gets more revenue. The fact is that truckers can choose not to register in Idaho, but they can't choose not to drive in Idaho. I would increase the standard rate by five cents. This first five cents would be distributed in the traditional manner 2/3 to ITD, 1/3 to the local highway district. I would include a second five cents and dedicate it to a regional transit authority (like Valley Regional Transit). In the absence of an RTA, I would use the regular distribution model. By doing so, we would be providing an alternative to driving and offer a solution for tomorrow instead of a solution for yesterday.

Do I expect my idea to ever be given consideration? No. But don't say I didn't come to the transportation gun-fight showdown without a gun.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The TwiLIGHT Zone, my kind of corporate welfare

Happy Saint Patrick's Day! But in actuality, this is more like Friday the 13th or the TwiLIGHT Zone. This is a strange world where I am going to advocate for spending stimulus money on what some might call corporate welfare.

As has already been widely reported, many groups and individuals requested a piece of the stimulus pie. Governor Otter decided that roads, roads, and more roads should be the top priority of nearly all of the discretionary funds in the stimulus package. You may be surprised to find out that I think the Governor didn't even come close to getting this one right.

Specifically there was one proposal that I found particularly valuable. The request, by Micron Technology, was for $25 million to begin manufacturing solar panels and high efficiency lighting components right here in Idaho. Obviously this would have created jobs, but that's not it even the tip of the iceberg. The real benefit to this investment is that while only a one time expenditure, the benefit will continue to accrue year after year. The development of these new technologies would likely spur more development in the elusive green economy, which will position Idaho as a leader in this emerging economy. That means more jobs requiring high skill workers.

As if that wasn't already enough the State also benefits by becoming more environmentally friendly. This new green outlook could prove quite useful if a cap and trade system becomes a reality some time in the near to mid-term. Not only would Idaho businesses potentially be poised to benefit by having carbon credits to trade, but now we would also have the capacity to produce carbon reducing products that would be in high demand. Pretty cool, huh?

Welcome to the TwiLIGHT Zone, my kind of corporate welfare.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

My Credo

Sometimes people misunderstand what I do, but let me show you something that explains who I am as a legislator and a person. This is my credo.