Monday, October 19, 2009

What's next?

On Sunday, October 11, The Idaho Statesman ran my op-ed dealing with what I view as a real disconnect between Governor Otter and regular Idahoans. In the print edition, the Statesman placed my piece right next to one by House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke. Representative Bedke asserted that now wasn't the time for rash measures and insinuated that he and his majority team in the House would protect the taxpayer. The phrase, "starve the beast," comes to mind. At the same time, the Statesman's Editorial Board also ran a piece discussing the issue and proclaiming that, "Lawmakers must defend Medicaid, higher education."

The three opinion pieces generated a fair amount of comments, some of which related to a question of how to protect programs, without raising taxes. I'd like to respond.

First, I have no appetite whatsoever to raise taxes on hard working Idahoans, that option is off the table.

Second, I'd like to clear up some of the misinformation Rep. Bedke disseminated. I, and no one in the legislature that I know of, has advocated for depleting ALL of the rainy day funds. I agree that some cuts will be required. Efficiencies, as the Guv suggests, should help, some. For example, it would be wise to combine some agencies together to reduce administrative costs (e.g. Ag and Water Resources, or Lands and Parks and Rec and Fish and Game). Washington State is doing so and I believe we can too.

I also think we could revamp our corrections systems, which would yield some significant savings. For example, I would move certain non-violent offenders out of prison and into work release. We are doing this some right now, but I think more could be done.

We also need to partner more intentionally with faith-based and community organizations (FBCOs). I attempted last year to put this idea into action with HCR 11, which ultimately stalled in Senate State Affairs Committee because Senators were concerned that it wasn't the Guv's idea and didn't want to "go over him." By investing in FBCOs, we reduce the burden to the State and subsequently taxpayers. In many cases FBCOs can do more with less because of partnerships they leverage within their communities. Plus, unlike state government, they know their communities better because they are in their communities. This has the potential to save a lot of money.

Lastly, not spending rainy day funds has the same practical outcome of slowing the economic recovery. State government, whether the Governor or Rep. Bedke like it, is a very important part of Idaho's gross state product. By unnecessarily cutting state government you are cutting jobs. Jobs that families rely upon. Families, that without those jobs, will end up tapping our already strained social services. That will lengthen the recession for regular Idahoans. Economist forecast a mostly full recovery including job creation by December 2010 at the latest. That is good news for Idahoans, regular Idahoans.

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