Tuesday, January 5, 2010

2010 Legislative Session Preview

The 2010 Legislative Session is less than a week away and the keyword for the upcoming session has already been coined, "Difficult."

As everyone that pays any bit of attention knows already the main issue for the Session will be the budget. As the AP reported, Speaker Denney is taking the position that, "Anything that has a price tag probably won't even get a hearing." Personally, while I understand that money is tight, limiting discourse on issues that have been lingering doesn't seem to be the best idea. The reality is that only 18 of the 105 legislators sit on the State's budget committee, JFAC. So what are the rest of us supposed to do? I'm not saying bills with large fiscal notes should necessarily pass, but to not even have the discussion seems to be a bit obstructionist. What if one of those ideas with a fiscal note had some really positive changes that could help the state in the near term? We may as well have the discussion so that we can become better prepared for later. Anyway, I'll get off from that soap box for now.

I do think that we'll see a big push to shrink state government, but the budget woes will just be a handy scapegoat. It'll be curious to see if Congress sends us anything we need to take action on from Health Care Reform. My guess is yes, but I'm not sure what. In terms of the budget cuts, I am particularly concerned about the budgets for Education (including if not especially higher education) and Health & Wealth. Seeing as how I am on both of the germane committees, I tend to care more about the issues of those departments than those that serve on other committees. My interest was piqued today when I visited the Westgate H&W office and saw a sight that nearly made me cry (literally). There were at minimum 75 people waiting to apply for a litany of social services. Many of the people had looks of despair on their faces and some of shame in their eyes. These aren't the deadbeats people think about that live off the system, these are hardworking folks that have been dealt a bad hand and need help getting back on their feet. It's just not right and contrary to what some people may say, I believe that helping others in a time of need is a proper role of government (but the government shouldn't be the only one helping, more on that later!).

In terms of my work this upcoming session, as I just indicated I'll do everything I can to help others in their time of need. Frankly, that is exactly why I ran in the first place. One of the best things we can do to help others is help them help themselves. That is why I am working on a couple of bills that are intended to create jobs, which I'll elaborate more on in the coming weeks. One of them I am really excited about would help create a fund to provide capital for small startups at no expense to the state. How? Wait and see!

I will also be leading a coalition of Idaho homeless shelters in their pursuit of a two-year temporary sales tax exemption. Before you get too far down the anti exemption expressway, hear me out. The fiscal note is about $15,000 statewide (that's peanuts), but the impact is huge. Considering the fact that a lot of people (if not all) that visit homeless shelters would otherwise probably be accessing state services, I think that this is a no-brainer. Also, philosophically speaking, I believe it is important that state government not be the only one providing social services. To that end empowering the faith based and community organizations like this is a step in the right direction in my perspective.

I also have a couple of education bills that I'll be working to get through. One of them, the Mastery Advancement Pilot Project is likely to cause some discomfort, but I believe that figuring out new ways of doing things in education is past due. The idea has received some press already and hopefully will get more momentum in the next few weeks.

There are a few others that I am working on as well, including local option authority, but in the name of brevity I'll address them in the near future.

Finally in terms of length of the session, I keep hearing that the Session may be over by the first week of April. Of course, I've heard similar predictions before, but maybe they mean it this time. My prediction for an end date is April 9 (calling all bets). While this may indeed be one of the most difficult sessions in a long time, I still believe that difficult is no match for perseverance.

1 comment:

Dr. Michael Blankenship said...

A significant number of people in this state are suffering, so someone has to stand up to the continued cuts to H&W and to education.

Another area that I hope draws attention is sentencing reform. The IDOC budget should not suffer further reductions without a significant reduction in the number of people sent to prison and placed on probation. Continued cuts threaten treatment programs, make prison more dangerous, and will bring in the federal courts.