Thursday, July 22, 2010

Invest in Idaho

I read with a modicum of humor a recent Op-Ed by Idaho Association of Commerce Industry (IACI). In the piece, they excoriated elected officials like me that have been pushing investments in small businesses. They surmise that by doing so, we are neglecting a significant number of employers that don’t fit the small businesses mold and creating an, “us versus them” dynamic.

Unfortunately, they just don’t get it. By virtue of the fact that IACI has a stage in which to trumpet their cockamamie story, they disprove their own point. Anytime a large employer wants to get something in the Idaho Legislature, they usually do. Not so for their small business counterparts. While large employers have the benefit of IACI and even possibly their own private lobbyists doing their bidding in the Legislature, who does the mom and pop shop have?

To be sure the Chamber does a degree of lobbying (albeit much less than in years past), but it is hamstrung between supporting the needs of its larger clients and those of the small business owner. There is also the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), but their lobbyist is only the payroll part-time and really can’t compete against the larger employers multiple full-time lobbyists.

To that end, news reports this week reveal what most of us probably already knew. According to the Gallup Job Creation Index, Idaho is the sixth worst job creator in the country. That doesn’t just happen. It is a concerted effort by those in state government to ignore the sector of our economy that actually creates most of the jobs, small business!

So what can we do? Well, in addition to the traditional mantra of “taxes, taxes, taxes,” I do think that government does have a role to play. The biggest problem most small businesses face when they want to expand is the difficulty of accessing capital. To create more jobs, small businesses must have more capital. No capital, no job creation. It is that simple.

Small Business Administration (SBA) Loans have dropped considerably as of late, which is compounding the problem even further. Last legislative session I proposed an innovative approach to providing more capital small businesses. The legislation, dubbed the Micro Enterprise Development Association (MEDA), would have created a loan fund for credit-worthy small businesses that were finding getting a loan in the credit tight environment impossible. I believe in investing Idaho small businesses.

Unfortunately, the Governor and IACI don’t see it that way. Instead of focusing on investing in Idahoans and Idaho small businesses, IACI and the Governor are more focused upon luring large corporations from out state to Idaho with big tax break. The result is just as Gallup reports it to be, an abysmal record on job creation.

What it all comes down to is a lack of understanding of how jobs are created and total lack of vision. My vision for job creation is to support small business owners. If investing in small businesses is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Update on Unemployment

As I go door-to-door, I routinely meet individuals that have been given a rough shake during the recession. A good deal of these unemployed constituents would be classified as older workers that were kicked to the curb in what should be the prime of the careers and at the highest point of their earning potential. These residents are clearly visibly shaken and concerned by not knowing what is going to happen next. The inability for the U.S. Senate to extend unemployment benefits has only exacerbated this anxiety.

For full disclosure, my dad happens to be one of those many unemployed Idahoans. He, like many others, exhausted his unemployment benefits and is a situation of unimaginable desperation. I can state without hesitation that he has done everything he could to find employment since losing his job in November. Unfortunately, that hasn't been enough.

But, now, there may finally be some good news. It looks likely that the U.S. Senate will vote to extend unemployment benefits for those that are hardest hit by the recession. The bill currently before the U.S. Senate would provide retroactive payments to those unemployed individuals that became the victims of a cynical political ploy to balance the federal budget on the backs of the unemployed. Due to some logistical issues with not being permitted to submit weekly reports and the inability to file for extensions to unemployment benefits, many constituents were unsure what would occur even if the bill were to pass.

But wait there's more! According to a representative from Congress Walt Minnick's office, the retroactive component is in the legislation and can not be ignored by any state. Also, I was assured by a division manager at the Idaho Dept. of Labor that should the legislation pass that Idaho would gladly provide retroactive payments for any weeks missed due to the unfortunate political games being played in Washington, D.C. If you or anyone you know has any questions, they can contact me or the Dept. of Labor for more information.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Thoughts on Ethics Panel

As a member of the Idaho House of Representatives, I am very concerned about the perception of the institution that I am honored to be a member. I have always been honored to have the opportunity to represent my district and do my best to avoid doing anything that might place a negative light upon the institution, my district, my family, or myself.

It is not the intention of this post to be the judge and jury of Rep. Phil Hart as I do not have the benefit of the full information and even if I did, it is not my role and this certainly isn't the proper venue. However, as a member of the House, as I mentioned early, I do have grave concerns about anyone or anything that might impede or distract the legislature from its important duties.

With that said, I do have serious concerns with the composition of the Ethics Panel convened by Speaker Denney. If truth is what we are searching for, then it seems to me that there are most certainly better alternatives than the legislators picked for this important task, specifically on the majority side.

The first thing that I immediately noted when I saw the list was a generational divide. There is not one single person on the Ethics Panel younger than 60. Is this really all that relevant? Perhaps not, but it is curious. Then again, when the average age of the Idaho House is over 60 (the oldest of any chamber in the United States), I suppose the natural order of things would likely lead to this occurring.

The second thing I observed was that every member from the majority party are chairman. This is significant because it means that all of the majority members on the panel are fiercely loyal to the Speaker. I am not saying this is going to have an impact, but I do believe it is worth noting (even though the media has failed to).

The next thing I noted was the gender disparity. With the exception of Rep. Wendy Jaquet, all of the other members of the panel are men. While I admit a serious disability in understanding gender politics, I have become much more sensitive to them thanks to the thoughtful and patient guidance of Rep. Jaquet and others. I don't know if the gender disparity will make any difference, but you never know.

Most interestingly was the geographic divide. Not a single member of the majority on the Ethics Panel lives or represents the CD1. I can understand not having someone from the far north, given the local politics, but no one from CD1 at all? I have a feeling this is a lot more meaningful than meets the eye. I have a few hunches, but I'll keep them private.

Finally, the thing I find most difficult to understand is the apparent lack of consideration for professional background when it comes to majority member appointments. With the notable exception of Rep. Rich Wills, who is a former law enforcement officer, the remaining members are all farmers/ranchers. While this certainly is a noble profession, I am not certain that it has the monopoly on ethics and law. These members are all good men who work hard, but are they the best fit, I don't personally believe so. Speaker Denney, in my view, missed a golden opportunity to take advantage of the legal acumen of Reps. Leon Smith and Lynn Luker, both trained attorneys and mediators.

Ultimately, it is my hope that the process is thorough and fair. I hope that my colleagues on the panel do not rush to judgement, regardless of which side of judgement it may be. The process deserves their best efforts and so do the people of Idaho.