Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Homeless and helpless

I am disappointed to report that just moments ago in the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee my effort to provide temporary tax relief to non-profit homeless shelters in Idaho (HB 435) was soundly defeated. The measure was unanimously supported in the House, but that didn't matter.

Senator Mike Jorgensen compared requesting the exemption to a story in the Old Testament where two women had fought over a baby and the King concluded that the only fair way to settle the dispute was the split the baby in half (1 Kings 3:16-28). Unfortunately for Senator Jorgensen, he doesn't understand how the story ended. The real mother of child asked for mercy on the child and relented on her demand. In other words, mercy and wisdom ruled the day. Sen. Jorgensen exhibited neither (to little surprise).

While the measure itself was rather minor, its symbolism was its greatest virtue. Republican legislators (in this case in the Senate), especially so-called "conservatives" deride entitlement spending and the role of the Department of Health and Welfare. Yet despite their contempt they offer absolutely no vision. They lay blame, but have no solutions. I am not saying my bill was a panacea, but at least it was an idea. It was a try to reduce the size of government in a real way. Lip service doesn't rehabilitate the addicted or shelter the homeless. Here is my challenge to those naysayers: What's your plan? I suspect the question may as well be rhetorical, but here is to hoping that they can figure out a way to put aside their personal agendas and partisanship and actually do something.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Can I get a Witness?!

You know when you are watching a television show like Law & Order and they call up the expert witness? To state the obvious they are doing that because that individual supposedly has some sort of useful insight into the situation. The expert's testimony is credible and thus has influence on decisions. In the Idaho Legislature when it comes to issues surrounding budgets and economics an expert witness is just another voice no different than the rest.

At least that is the impression that I get from the decision made earlier today by the JFAC when it set its target budget well below the budget recommended by the State of Idaho's Chief Economist, Mike Ferguson. Rather than follow the recommendations of the expert, members of JFAC decided that they liked the beat of their own drum a bit more thank you very much. Never mind if the beat is a bit slow and depressing.

So why does it matter? The revenue number that they accept and target the budget to has everything do with the amount of money the state spends for services including schools, parks, safety net programs, and countless others. So the lower the number, the more cuts.

To be fair, Mr. Ferguson has been a bit off with his projections the last couple of years. Perhaps this is the response, distrust. However, even with my own education and training and Mr. Ferguson's missed projections, he is still the expert. By ignoring his recommendation, JFAC is making the concerted effort to disregard his efforts.

Frankly, if Mr. Ferguson was new to the team and had messed up early and often, I'd understand, but Mr. Ferguson has been at this game for a long time (longer than nearly all the legislators). The combination of his training and experience are irreplaceable even by a strong gut reaction, like the one exhibited by JFAC. Projecting budgets and the economy isn't easy, especially at a time like now when the economy has been demonstrating some unusual characteristics.

Regardless of the spastic nature of the economy, numbers still work and trend lines can still be predicted. Idahoans deserve that the expert that they are paying for be listened to. Ignoring him and treating him like just another uninformed voice puts our economic recovery at risk and needlessly cuts services that we all value.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Semanko doesn't get it

Norm Semanko doesn't seem to understand the tough economic times facing Idahoans. The fact is regular Idahoans have been hit hard by the economic downtown. They need solutions not partisan gamesmanship.

Yesterday I along with the 17 other House Democrats voted against the ill-named Health Freedom Act (HB 391). Unfortunately for Idahoans, this legislation is yet another distraction for lawmakers from our real work of getting Idahoans back to work. And for what end? So that Norm Semanko and others could try to score a political point.

Well, here is a news alert, Norm: I care more about fixing the problems for Idaho families than scoring political points (see exhibit A , exhibit B,and exhibit C). It's your insistence on playing partisan games instead of finding solutions that has degraded the public's confidence in our government. You keep playing games, I'll try to get some real work done and help my constituents back on the road to economic security.

Never mind that the legislation itself was foolish, and that is putting it politely. The legislation ignores Article VI, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution (aka the Supremacy Clause). It states, "This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding." But Mr. Semanko isn't interested in upholding the Constitution, that is only important when he and his party are trying to pacify the Tea Party folks.

Oh and on the final point, the bill has a $100,000 fiscal note. So rather than employing teachers we will be employing attorneys. Great idea. I suppose if legal community needs a stimulus package, Norm has the bill for them. That is not the vision I have for Idaho. I'd rather spend the taxpayer dollars someplace more valuable than in a partisan treasure hunt. Norm can keep scoring political points and I'll keep working for Idahoans. I trust that when Election Day comes the regular Idahoans that Norm is neglecting will let him know they would have rather the legislature spend more trying address their needs rather than serve his own partisan agenda.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Week Four Recap: Its all about jobs

Another week of the 2010 Legislative Session has come and gone. Things have been definitely cookin' and the weeks are beginning to blur together (already!). While Governor Otter continues to talk about ways to cut budgets and send mixed signals about everything from the Idaho Digital Learning Academy (IDLA) to the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, I along with legislative Democrats have been putting forward a vision for how Idaho gets out of the mess it is in. In two words, job creation.

We've all heard about how high unemployment is to blame for the budget woes, so it seems to reason that we should actually try to get to the root of the problem. Simply trying slash and burn the budget will not create a single job (in fact it will result in ending many jobs, both public and private) and thus will not solve the real problem (or in fact actually make it worse)! I can personally say that the unemployment bug has bit my own family in a very real and direct way. I suspect that story of family is familiar to nearly all Idahoans. Thus, the need to find a solution is real to my family as well.

To be clear, much of what we are experiencing is a national problem and so efforts at the state-level alone will not be a panacea. However, I think situation is bigger than just the impact of legislation. It is also about attitude. Right now, I am hearing from Governor Otter a message of retreat and despair. I suspect that message does nothing to improve consumer confidence or restore hope in the entrepreneurial community.

Instead of saying what we can't do, I think it’s important to say what we can do. We need to tell consumers what we know, which is that good times will be here again. We need to tell entrepreneurs that we believe in their own goals and that we will stand behind them and provide them the tools they need to succeed. After all, if they succeed, our budget will improve and we will all benefit.

Okay, so now you may be saying, what are the specifics?! Idaho Democratic legislators have proposed six bills, known as the Idaho Jobs and Opportunity Blueprint (IJOBs). These bills have been getting hearings and are beginning to get traction. In addition to the IJOBs proposals, I have personally worked on a job creation bill known as the Micro Enterprise Development Authority (MEDA). This legislation was recently spotlighted in the Idaho Business Review. After spending several weeks listening and incorporating suggestions, I expect to submit the legislation to the House Business Committee early next week.

So as I stated a few weeks back, if this legislative session is really only about the budget, then it'll be a waste of taxpayer dollars. Now is the time to be innovative and thoughtful. Now is the time to think about how to get us out of the budget hole we are in. Now it’s all about jobs!