At the start of this 2012 legislative session we talked about our hopes and plans for focusing on the important work before us. We talked about the need for prosperity and how to help to create jobs for the 60,000 PLUS Idahoans who are currently without, and we offered solutions in our IJOBS 2.0 package.
We talked about our shared responsibility to maintain the vital public structures, the facilities and services that Idaho communities and families expect. And we talked about honesty and fairness, and of the culture of the Legislature and state government, and of how an ethical and cultural renewal was needed to restore faith in the legislature and state government. And again we offered solutions in our Restore Ethics and Accountability package.
So how has the 2012 legislature done?
On the education front, we are still trading laptops and online classes for teachers, and the GOP leadership, who stated that their first duty when the economy and revenue improved was to restore funding to our schools, have gone back on their words. How can we provide opportunities when school funding is $140 million less than in 2009 with more students? The top consideration for the Governor and the Majority leaders was a $35 million redistribution of wealth to the wealthiest Idahoans while the Luna laws mandate ongoing reductions for classroom instruction to continue for many years.
The real hope now is not that these leaders will remember their promises. Rather it is that the voice of the people is heard this November through recall of the Luna laws.
We are happy to note that the economy is improving, and it looks like that improvement will continue. But once again the Legislature and governor missed an opportunity to make real progress in helping Idaho communities grow and prosper. Meanwhile, they continue to shirk their shared responsibility for the infrastructure that businesses depend upon. We have over $500 million in State building maintenance deferred, and another $1 billion in schools and local government projects have piled up. The state is hundreds of millions short of meeting critical maintenance requirements for roads and bridges. In the face of such dire and growing needs, legislative Republicans and the Governor decided it was best to give redistribute our citizens wealth to corporations and the high earners. That is neither wise nor fair.
Alarmingly, Idaho became another battleground in the GOP’s “War on Women”, with two attempts to deny contraceptives to women. The Republicans also sought to insert big government into the relationship between a patient and a doctor by forcing women to have unnecessary medical procedures against their will. This was an affront to the values that we and most Idahoans hold dear: limited government, personal responsibility, individual freedom and fairness.
Some good things happened this session. We protected young athletes through concussion legislation. After three years of debates, our roads will finally be safer because we’ve banned texting while driving. These are truly within the role of government—protecting a large number of Idahoans with good policies and little to no cost.
We also made steps–albeit baby steps—to restore critical services for the disabled by replacing $5 million dollars in support services so they can stay in the community and workplace. But there is more to do if we are to be wise stewards of the taxpayer’s money.
And we helped higher education and our future industries with IGEM, the technology transfer and start-up development program, one that bore some resemblance to ideas we put forth in our 2010 IJOBs proposals.
It is what we could do in the future that gives us hope. We In the Democratic Caucus will resume work on proposals to help the private sector develop good jobs and careers. These proposals will include the Value Added tax credit for agricultural processing, better support for higher education, and ways to further support startup and expanding businesses here in Idaho.
We also believe it’s time to begin work on a constitutional amendment to protect citizens’ rights to refuse government mandated medical procedures and make it necessary to have their consent for health care treatments. One wouldn’t think it necessary in Idaho to protect the freedoms and rights of our citizens from the overreach of government, but if anything experience shows that that not all Idaho legislators have the same perception of personal freedom.
Finally, we will renew our efforts to address the ethical culture in the legislature and in State government. We had great hopes that, working with the Majority, we would make progress on an independent ethics commission, on personal financial disclosure, and on other tools to help restore the people’s confidence in their state government. Every few weeks during the 2012 session we had another reminder of how we’re falling far short of the expectations of our citizens. After all the publicity, all the meetings, this Legislature and the Republican leaders failed to take any meaningful action. The culture of the Statehouse needs to change.
Representative Democracy requires that the people believe that Senators, Representatives and State officials work for them, work for their districts and the State, most importantly work for the common good. They and we can no longer rely on the fox to guard the henhouse.
As we go into this interim period, with both primary and general elections, we ask the voters to ask the hard questions and demand specific answers. To turn away from the politics of false fears and false choices. And by voting wisely to ensure that the 2013 Legislature is ethical, transparent, fair and responsible.