Idaho Dem Leaders: Otter State of State Leaves Out Idaho Families

Idaho Democratic lawmakers made a powerful argument for Idaho families in their annual Address to Idaho. They also noted that Gov. Otter was long on talk and short on action that helps Idaho families. The governor failed to acknowledge that our status as 50th in wages for household incomes and average income hurts Idaho families. Rather the governor continued his legacy of giving handouts to wealth, well-connected organizations and donors at the expense of the rest of us.

Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett and House Minority Leader John Rusche called to end to 20 years of GOP policies that have devastated Idaho families:

Hard working Idaho families are struggling with an unfairly high cost of living. In many cases, the jobs available are part-time, low wage jobs without benefits. We are dismayed that Idaho is now 50th in the nation for wages. Our public schools, which open the doors of success to so many young people, are suffering from years of legislative neglect resulting in rising local property taxes that hurt working families, businesses and the elderly.”

“Idaho’s public schools have seen deep cuts. The Majority claims that these cuts were unfortunate results of a national recession. We strongly disagree. These cuts were choices. Intentional and deliberate.”

The entire Address to Idaho that Idaho Democratic Leaders gave Tuesday is printed below:

 

Address to Idaho from Idaho Democratic Leaders

Welcome and thank you for coming.

We are honored to once again be here in the Idaho Capitol doing the work of “We the People.”

We would like to take a moment and thank our veterans and active military members for their service to our country. We would also like to take a moment and remember Bowe Bergdahl who remains a prisoner of war. We offer our prayers for his health and his return home to his family.

We also want to note that we believe that Idaho could do better in recognizing the debt that we owe our veterans for serving their country. Our veterans struggle to find employment, adequate health care and the mental health services they need. Idaho Democratic lawmakers pledge to support veterans and their families through our work in the Legislature and in our communities.

As we begin this session, we want to take a moment to remind you of the work we are building on from last year. For the first time in a long time, we found Republican colleagues who were willing to put partisan politics aside and cooperate to find the best solutions for Idaho families. It is our hope that we can have the same spirit of cooperation this year.

Given that some in the Majority party will have opposition in the Primary election, some predict a “legislature lite”, where many of the major issues and decisions will either be deferred or even buried in the rush to get out of town.

We believe it is our responsibility to put the people’s priorities first. We believe that decades of one-party rule have resulted in a system that is rigged against regular Idaho families.

Hard working Idaho families are struggling with an unfairly high cost of living. In many cases, the jobs available are part-time, low wage jobs without benefits. We are dismayed that Idaho is now 50th in the nation for wages. Our public schools, which open the doors of success to so many young people, are suffering from years of legislative neglect resulting in rising local property taxes that hurt working families, businesses and the elderly.

Every decision Idaho Democrats make this session will be guided by whether we believe that Idaho’s families and small businesses will benefit. We will work hard to ensure that our freedoms are protected, that opportunities are created and that we are passing a strong legacy onto our children. We want Idaho to be a place where our children can choose to live and work and raise a family.

We see that the Governor has a robust target for revenue growth and we hope he is correct. But we disagree with the proposal that the return of economic growth should be given to the affluent as more tax cuts. Indeed, that has already been tried at the cost of decreasing our investment in education This is not only bad for the future of our children—because it robs them of the opportunity to succeed in life—it is bad for our Idaho economy because it discourages businesses that offer high-paying careers from moving to Idaho or from expanding here in Idaho.

We do not believe the Governor and other GOP politicians are helping hard working families when they give tax cuts to the wealthiest Idahoans. It would have made far greater sense to focus those breaks on families who dearly need a fair chance at an opportunity and a better future.

It is worth noting that while things are better with regards to the number of employed, too many are in low wage jobs. This “low wage trap” will only get worse if we do not use the rising revenue to lift the hopes of those families to provide a path of opportunity. It is simply unacceptable that Idaho’s elected leaders have allowed our state to lead the nation in the percentage of minimum wage jobs, and, again, 50th in wages. It is equally appalling that our leaders would actively seek to worsen that standing by attempting to lure companies here on the promise that they can pay Idahoans a low wage.

We believe that all of our policies in the state—whether it is the work of our Department of Commerce, any of the other executive branches, or the efforts in our Legislature—should be based on the idea that no family should be impoverished if they are working full-time. Idaho has not discouraged low-wage paying businesses from settling here, but we do not believe that a successful 21st century economy can be built this way. Any time not spent seeking ways of fostering and attracting high-paying industries is time misspent. We want companies that pay living wages. We want companies that will help make Idaho a leader in wages.

The tie between education and the economy is undeniable. For that reason we are grateful that Governor Otter restates his belief that public education, K-12 or “K-through-career” should be the top priority for the Legislature.

While “K-through-career” sounds good, we submit that the governor has again missed an opportunity. Based on all that is known about children’s brain development, we believe that the Governor should have called for “Pre-K through Career.” Idaho cannot afford any other missed opportunity and we hope the governor and Legislature will embrace our modest proposal for Pre-K pilot programs.

We also commend the governor for his proposal to ramp up investment in work force training. However, the effectiveness of those funding programs needs to be tracked.

Sometimes rhetoric outstrips reality. And our budgeting shows our values. Idaho’s public schools have seen deep cuts. The Majority claims that these cuts were unfortunate results of a national recession. We strongly disagree. These cuts were choices. Intentional and deliberate.

Education funding as a share of state spending has actually decreased 11%. (2000-2013) Instead of investing in education, the Majority took money from schools and colleges. They did it over the objection of university presidents, educators, businesses, parents and Democrats.

As a result, public school support is still $100 million lower than what Idaho provided going into the Great Recession. Local school districts have been generous in approving levies by increasing property taxes to keep operations going. Since 2009, the number of school override levies has more than doubled from 41 to 89 school districts seeking those funds for basic budgets. That’s out of 115 school districts. This attempt to shift financial responsibility must end.

Idaho budget policy is starving schools. Every community that has to pass a school override levy to pay for basic school costs understands that this is true. Every rural school district that has had to drop from offering school five days a week down to four-days a week knows that this is true. Make no mistake, no school district in Idaho has gone to a four-day school week, has dropped extracurriculars, or increased class size because they hoped it would provide a better education to their children. They did it because they were desperately going broke.

We reject the glib retort that money does not equate to a better education. Can anyone seriously say that a drop of $930 per child is anything but harmful? If replacing funding in K-12 and higher education was the top priority, why do we see tax cut proposals each year and only puny little efforts to replace education funding? How does that improve opportunity?

We also believe that the governor has done Idaho a disservice by taking Medicaid Redesign off the table. Not only is it financially irresponsible, it is clinically inappropriate. And we know there are Republican legislators who agree with us.

Idahoans believe that access to public lands, to hunt, fish, or hike, is one of the greatest legacies that we leave to our children. Idaho Democrats will work to protect that gift. Current proposals to take control of public lands threatens that legacy. We simply do not believe that we have to choose between clean air, clean water, and business; between recreation and our economic development. With wisdom and leadership, we can have both.

There is a harsh reality here. Twenty years of GOP control of Idaho politics have led us to the bottom. 50th in family (i.e. per capita) income. 50th in school support, the highest percentage of minimum wage workers. And we believe that these measurements—education support and household economy– are related.

The first step to climbing out is to face that truth with courage and honesty. We cannot just wait until next year when no one is up for re-election. Idaho families deserve leadership and opportunity now.

For our part, Idaho’s Democratic lawmakers will consider every proposal that has the potential to improve our economy, help our businesses and benefit our families. We will partner with anyone who shares this goal.

Some of our caucus will present bills designed to help students “go on” in tech and college training. We will try to focus on some of the tools that work for kids, like pre-K. We will offer opportunities to improve government effectiveness and transparency. And we will offer inducements for business expansion tied not to capital invested but to jobs and wages actually achieved. We will do all we can to find partners to make those bills laws. We will also do all we can to see that the recommendations of the governor’s education task force become law. These thoughtful, dedicated people found common ground and compromised. We intend to follow their example.

Remember: All of our decisions are guided by whether a policy will improve the lives of Idaho families, children, and businesses. It is a simple measure. We welcome any proposal that aims to achieve that simple goal and levels the playing field by treating regular Idahoans fairly.

In that spirit, Idaho’s Democratic legislators do not view the legislative session as an impediment to re-election or as a platform for re-election. We view it as a sacred trust placed in us by our constituents to do our level best for them and the state of Idaho.

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