Democratic legislators responded to Governor Otter’s State of the State with their annual Democratic Address to Idaho. Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett and House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding presented the following speech:
Thanks to Idaho Reports for the full video.
Welcome, and thank you all for coming today.
We’d like to thank Governor Otter for his State of the State address, and his service to the state of Idaho. Even though we haven’t always seen eye to eye when it comes to politics and policy, we appreciate his spirit of civil discourse and we know he cares about Idahoans and their future.
During his State of the State address, Governor Otter touted Idaho’s 2.9% unemployment rate as a success for the Idaho economy. Yet throughout his tenure, Idaho consistently remains one of the states with the highest numbers of minimum wage earners, competing with the likes of Mississippi. When workers are stuck in a low wage economy, many are forced to work one or more full-time jobs that don’t pay enough to cover childcare, rent, and basic utilities. Despite their best efforts, hard working Idahoans who care about their families, work hard for every penny and struggle to make ends meet are still not getting ahead.
Adding to the economic challenges faced by our families, we are concerned that the Governor’s proposed tax cut of nearly $100 million dollars will be balanced on the backs of Idaho families with children. A tax cut that results in higher payments for families with children and no solution for early childhood education is not fair.
At the same time, we are glad that Governor Otter continues to demonstrate his commitment to the career ladder. However, Idaho remains below the national average for high school graduation and the teacher exodus from Idaho continues. If we are serious about improving the “go-on” rate and providing opportunity for all Idahoans, the underfunded measures being pursued are woefully inadequate. When Governor Otter leaves office after 12 years, an entire generation of Idahoans will have been impacted by the inconsistent policies offered by this administration beginning with the Luna Laws.
The governor says, he has prioritized education funding in his budget, but during his time in office, communities across the state have issued a record number of bonds and levies just to keep a roof over the heads of our students.
In 11 years, as a percentage of the budget, funding for higher education has steadily decreased even though we’ve added two badly-needed community colleges during that time. Truthfully, if Gov. Otter and the majority cared about higher education, they would have done something to stop year-over-year tuition increases years ago.
When it comes to our education system, we remain in a spiral. College graduates saddled with growing debt and an uncertain professional future are reluctant to enter the teaching profession, hurting our communities and forcing young families to move away in search of a better education for their children.
This is heartbreaking. I have a brand new baby girl who deserves better than an underfunded education system, and I know I’m not the only parent here who feels that way. Even those without children understand the importance of a fully-funded, world-class education. We can prepare young Idahoans for the jobs of the future only by fully investing in our public schools and making post-high school education more affordable for Idaho’s working families.
Leadership means standing firm on something that you know to be the best course for Idaho. At one time, Governor Otter supported Medicaid expansion to cover the 78,000 Idahoans including 3,800 Idaho veterans without access to care. When we talk about healthcare, the governor’s legacy is chronically plagued by unhealthy ideas driven by intra-partisan warfare. Over time, like with his education initiatives, he allowed members of his party to move him toward ham handed policies like 2015’s PCAP program and now a push to provide “skimpy” healthcare plans that have no chance of actually controlling healthcare costs. This year’s healthcare proposal is just a stunt that will not deliver what people need: It will not lower health care costs; it will not lower insurance rates; and it most certainly will not lower property taxes. Had the governor stood firm and pushed for Medicaid expansion, he would have accomplished all three. We believe there is still time and know that he still supports Medicaid expansion.
Democratic Legislators will once again sponsor legislation that expands Medicaid to cover every Idahoan, lower insurance rates, and decrease property taxes. And on that note, the federal government needs to fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program which is set to expire in March of this year. Taking healthcare away from our most vulnerable children is simply unacceptable.
Fiscally responsible leadership is more than a simple soundbite. It requires changing years of bad policies that are harming our taxpayers. This year we will again bring bi-partisan legislation to eliminate mandatory minimums for non-violent drug offenders. We will also bring a bill to pay-off our debt for a maximum security prison which will save Idahoans millions of dollars.
Most importantly, our caucus truly values education and we know that our path to economic prosperity starts early and extends to adulthood. We support an effective, statewide early childhood education program as proposed by Rep. Hy Kloc.
This year, Rep. Sally Toone will again seek bipartisan support for our Rural Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program to recruit and retain qualified teachers in rural districts where they struggle on this issue. Our communities need tools to recruit and retain the best and brightest teachers.
We support decreasing the unemployment insurance taxes on businesses and hope that Idaho businesses will respond with actions that benefit their workers. We will also take steps to protect workers who are victims of wage theft, by making it easier for them to collect the wages owed. And, as always, we support equal pay for equal work in a safe and healthy work environment free from discrimination and harassment.
We support advancing apprenticeship and certificate programs in our state, and believe they should be modeled off highly effective post secondary certification programs, including union journeyman programs that are open to union and non-union members alike, are self sufficient, and not dependent upon taxpayer dollars.
As part of the Governor’s Workforce Development Task Force, and now the Workforce Development Council, I worked with my colleagues to build these recommendations for a path forward. The task force recommended that we invest in post-secondary technical schools, incentive funding for high school technical programs and expanding CTE offerings to the 7th and 8th grades. I am excited to see these recommendations become reality.
Democratic legislators see economic growth opportunities everywhere. This includes investing in broadband technology that brings communications and education into our homes, schools, and workplaces — where internet speed in some rural communities is 60 percent slower than the national average. This also includes providing training for the displaced and unemployed so they can find new opportunities for themselves and their families.
Idahoans deserve the opportunity to pursue the American Dream — the opportunity to earn a decent income and enjoy the fruits of our labor in providing for our families while enjoying a little extra in our pockets at the end of the day. Increasing the minimum wage is essential to the economic security of many Idahoans and proactive in maintaining a healthy economy.
Every Idahoan expects a high quality of life for our families and our communities. A prosperous future relies on strong communities where businesses and workers create a robust economy that supports Idaho families.
As you all know, we all do better… when we all do better.
We also know that quality of life includes safety and access to clean resources and preserved public lands. We support measures to ensure our seniors, baby boomers, parents, millennials, and young children have access to clean air and clean water. We owe them at least as much. We will continue to fight for common sense policies that help Idahoans live their best lives.
These goals are not pie-in-the-sky ideas. They are actual plans with supporting legislation brought by Democratic Legislators for our working families and youngsters. And we intend to move forward with all of it.
Thank you again for coming. We want to leave you today with the knowledge that Democratic Legislators are committed to our vision that places everyone now, and in the future, on a pathway to success — regardless of your income, beliefs or who you choose to love. We will now stand for any questions.