Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Whatchu talkin' 'bout, Willis?

After having reviewed Governor Otter's "explanation" as to why he vetoed HB 245, all I can think to say is, "Whatchu talkin' 'bout, Willis?"

See it for yourself, here.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Say it ain't so

The Governor decided to veto HB 245, aka the Voluntary Parents as Teacher Support Program. I could go on and on about how ridiculous this is, but I won't. Really, I am somewhat in disbelief that the Guv would play politics with kids. Say it ain't so...

Sunday, April 19, 2009

End of the road?

Well, tomorrow will be the 99th day of the 2009 legislative session. That's right, 99, as in only one a way from triple digits. As has been widely reported, there are essentially two issues preventing us from going home. First is the mainstay going home issue, the budget. The second issue, transportation funding, has held the same position for two years. The question is, will this week be the end of the road?

I think its pretty clear that the budget will be taken care of early this week, save perhaps the public education budgets. The latter is being delayed due to some impending legislation that seeks to change the statutory responsibility for funding public education. The bills, HB 256, HB 262, and HB 303 are all major shifts in education policy. But I'll save the education discussion for another day.

Transportation is a whole different issue. After having read the Idaho Statesman editorial on the issue today, I took pause. I thought long and hard about the role I have played in this debate. In their words:

CENTER? WHAT CENTER? Coming into the session, Otter's best chance of getting road repair money rested in bipartisanship - and forging a centrist coalition of moderate Republicans and Democrats. But from those bygone early days of the session, Democrats have ripped Otter for putting potholes before people, and Otter has made it far too easy for Boise Democrats to criticize needed repairs to an aging road system.
Blame all around. Democrats have demagogued the issue. Otter has been unable to reach across party lines.

Demagoguery? Seriously? Perhaps the Statesman forgot to read Otter's response to the House's decision to decline raising taxes on fuel or to some of the debate in favor. But that's not my point here. The point is that my position on the issue has been crystal clear from the beginning. Consider this response from the 2008 Idaho Statesman Voter Guide as proof:

Gov. Butch Otter says Idaho needs hundreds of millions of dollars in highway improvements it cannot pay for with existing revenues. What, if anything, should the state do to improve transportation? How would you pay for these improvements?

Branden J. Durst: As I have stated on my blog ( funding doesn't occur in a vacuum. Do roads need to be improved? Absolutely. Is there enough money to do it? Probably not. Unfortunately, advocating for highway funding and not mass transit doesn't make sense. The solution to the transportation problem, especially in the Treasure Valley, must include local-option authority without an unnecessary and capricious constitutional amendment.

I guess if being up front about your position during a campaign and then advocating for your position as you had stated it is demagoguery, I suppose I am guilty as charged. But I have a different word for it, honesty. If people in District 18 wanted to elect someone that would write a blank check to Governor Otter and ITD for transportation without any other considerations, they should have elected someone else. I don't take my position in order to achieve some sort of visceral emotional response. I have taken my position to protect the taxpayers of District 18 and ensure the long term strategic interest of the State of Idaho.

Anyway, while I do suspect that end of the road is near my position won't change. Transportation funding is needed, but a comprehensive approach must be the solution. Without it, we will continue to kick the can down the street and delay the inevitable.

Friday, April 17, 2009

For the Children

Last week the Senate voted 28-6 in favor of HB 245, the Parents as Teachers (PAT) Support Program. Now, its on its way to the Governor where its future is unknown.

As background, PAT is a nationally recognized program that uses the home visit model for early childhood education. Unlike programs that take the child out of the home, PAT seeks to teach parents to be the teachers. The program is very low cost compared to other early childhood programs. While it certainly isn't the perfect solution for early childhood education, it is definitely 500 times better than nothing at all. It is tough to compare the effectiveness of PAT with other types of programs, but for what it is, it is a good program. For more information about it, check out the National Parents as Teachers website here.

In Idaho, PAT operated under executive order of former Governor Dirk Kempthorne. The program was a huge success and found an ally in former First Lady Patricia Kempthorne. The program operated throughout the State by funding through federal TANF funds. In 2007, when Governor Otter was elected, he questioned whether or not TANF funds were allowed to be used for PAT. He concluded that they were not and by executive order ended the program.

Late in the 2008 legislative session I was approached by some community members to reconstitute of PAT in Idaho. I put together an RS and submitted it to House Education Committee Chairman Bob Nonini. Due to the lateness of the RS, however, it was decided that the legislation should wait another year before being introduced.

After I was successfully re-elected in November 2008 (thank goodness), I again began to attempt to drum up support for PAT. I immediately found an ally in newly elected Representative Brian Cronin from Boise's north end. We continued to refine the language of the legislation and I will say that Brian helped make my good bill a great bill. Through some negotiation and good fortune, we also were able to secure sponsorship of Rep. Nonini as well as House Education Committee vice-chair Mack Shirley. The bill sailed through the House.

Now we are back to now. Having been signed by the Speaker and sent to the Governor the ball is in his court. The Governor has three options at his disposal. He can either sign the bill, let the bill go into law without his signature, or veto the bill. For the sake of the families of Idaho, I hope he doesn't do the latter. If the Governor attempts to use PAT as a political football against myself or anyone else, he will be doing so at the disadvantage of Idaho's families. The fact is that if he does so and uses the funding piece and excuse, it is exactly that, an excuse. The billl does not authorize the expenditure of any funds, including TANF funds. PAT is a positive step for Idaho.

Governor, for the children, sign HB 245.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Budget Denied

So why do I keep voting no on all those appropriation bills? Well, some of the budgets are better than others, but they nearly all have the same fatal flaw. The flaw is an across the board five percent cut on state employee salaries. Now, intelligent people may disagree as to whether or not state employees should be asked to hold the bag in the economic down turn. However, it is undeniable that reducing state employee pay will have a direct and negative impact on Idaho's economy.

State employees, generally speaking, are middle income earners. Due to this, as a group, their savings rate is relatively low. This low savings rate, justified or not, means that they spend what they make. It also means they would find it very difficult to absorb any cut. It is likely that the cuts will result in increased debt and potentially loss of homes. More certainly, this cut will have a direct and negative impact on the multiplier effect within our economy. This impact will only prolong our recession.

In addition to the negative economic impact, there is a question of control. That is, who should decide how state agencies are managed? Is it the proper role of the legislature to manage state agencies? I don't think so. Some may say, "But negotiations are in the works right now. The across the board component may go away." Well, frankly, may doesn't mean shall. Given the history of the legislature, I am not comforted that the negotiations will conclude in anything that will resolve these harms.

As a lawmaker, I am asked to "vote on the bill before me." The bills before me don't allow managers to manage. The bills before also will have a substantial negative impact on our economy. I will continue to vote no.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

With all due respect, Mr. Governor

Who is irresponsible? First this comment by Governor Otter on the decision by the House to defeat a two cent gas tax increase:

First let me thank the 32 House members who showed today that they understand the issue and the stakes," he said in a statement issued by his office. "I appreciate their patience, leadership, and commitment to doing the right thing. That being said, I am very disappointed by the outcome of today’s vote. Employers, local leaders and other concerned citizens from throughout Idaho have helped me assemble a mountain of information to make the case over the past year. A legislative audit confirmed the need. For months now we have made every compromise, addressed every legitimate concern and provided every alternative that opponents wanted. Instead of working in the best interest of Idaho, 37 members of the House continue finding new excuses to do nothing. That is irresponsible. I have done and will continue doing everything I can. It is the responsibility of all of us — including those 37 House members — to act on the real needs of the people we serve. This is a serious and immediate issue of safety, of economic recovery and future prosperity, and of whether we are going to be responsible stewards of a $16 billion investment that generations of Idaho taxpayers have left in our care or passive witnesses to, and victims of, its continuing deterioration. We must not and I will not ignore reality. I will continue working with those legislators who understand the problem and are willing to provide leadership and solutions to meet our responsibilities.

With all due respect, Mr. Governor, your statement is irresponsible. You state, "For months now we have made every compromise, addressed every legitimate concern and provided every alternative that opponents wanted." With all due respect, Mr. Governor, but that is categorically false. As my debate against HB135 indicated you haven't even attempted to address every legitimate concern. You also haven't provided every alternative that opponents wanted. Are you saying that concerns about improving access and funding to alternative modes of transportation aren't legitimate? At what point did you invite members of the House Democratic Caucus from the Treasure Valley (who nearly all voted against your plans) to the table? At what did you ask us, "What do you need to get on board?" To my knowledge the answer is obviously never. Even last week during the amending order, we tried as hard as we could to amend the bill so that it would address our concerns. You offered no leadership in supporting those issues that the people of my district care about. With all due respect, Mr. Governor, please don't suggest that you tried to meet us half way and certainly don't suggest that I am being irresponsible. I understand the problem, but will not be bullied or shamed into do something that I know is not in the strategic long term interests of the state of Idaho.