Guest Editorials: Views of Other Democrats

Levi Cavenener: Changes needed for safe schools in 2020

Here is what I would like to see for school come fall in 2 categories: things that don’t cost money, and things that do followed by high risk activities we need to have a serious conversation about.

Doesn’t cost money:

-A and B days with half of the students attending each day. If we don’t do this, it will be impossible to have social distance in a class of 40 kiddos, not to mention on the bus.

-Face coverings for secondary students and staff unless there is some sort of medical exemption for that student. Added bonus-maybe we won’t have to police so much PDA.

-Staggered lunch. There is no reason why we should be packing a cafeteria with hundreds of kiddos at a time. This will take some scheduling ingenuity.

-Temperature screens prior to entering the building, and a designated area for students who have a temperature or symptoms while waiting for transport home.

-Homeroom/advisory each day collaborating with students on how to prevent transmission /unsafe trends the building has identified.

-Lessons for each day posted online, and families would be given the flexibility for the kiddos to attend in person or virtually to further limit number of students in class and increase ability to socially distance.

Does cost money:

-Disposable face coverings for students who forget theirs at home in each classroom.

-Hand sanitizer stations in each classroom and in “hotspot” areas like the cafeteria, locker rooms, etc.

-Full time school nurse in each building.

-Wireless hotspot devices for low income families in the event school goes back to distance learning.

-Stipend for cleaning supplies for teachers. Clorox wipes aren’t cheap, and having Kleenex in a classroom should not be based on what teachers purchases it out of their own pocket.

High Risk items we need to discuss:

-Choir. I know, it literally is half of our students favorite class. But consider 75-100 students standing side by side shouting. In my opinion, if there is an outbreak in school this is the most likely location. How do we offer music in a safe way?

-PE, especially come winter when students will be inside. Brainstorming activities that allow students to keep distance is a must.

-Sports. This won’t be a popular opinion ,but it needs to be said. Not all sports are equal. Throwing a softball around on a field where everyone is spread apart seems solid. Wrestlers climbing, breathing, and sweating all over each other and the mat everyone else will be working around on not so much.

-Events. Do we want a packed gym? Will patrons be required to wear masks? Do we limit the number of admissions?

-An outbreak response plan: Do we shut down school if even one student or staff tests positive? It might not be in the hands of admin if contact tracers tell all the potential staff they need to quarantine for 14 days…there won’t be enough subs.

-Speaking of subs, we are going to need a lot. If staff has so much as the sniffles, they should stay home. What’s the plan for the current sub shortage we had pre-pandemic?

-Absence policies. We want students to stay home if they have any illness. What’s the plan to address credit denial for exceeding absences if students do what we want by staying home when in the past they would have come.

-Mental health counseling. Between the isolation, anxiety, fear, and unfortunate likelihood of a friend or loved one being seriously impacted, we have a ticking mental health disaster on our doorstep. Do we have enough support, and do students know who to go to, how to ask, and feel safe to seek help.

-Remediation. If we thought the “summer-slide” in academic skills was a dozy, we are in for quite the shock. How do we get a grasp on where the students are performing in the fall, and then adjust accordingly.

-Standardized tests. For real, a total waste of time this year. Just please no.

I’m sure there’s more that I’m missing, but the point is that we CAN and SHOULD do everything in our power to protect our students, staff, and community.

We SHOULD be modeling behaviors we want our students to mirror. That means wearing a face covering and social distancing to the best of our ability.

If the first day of school looks more or less like the first day of school last year, we are doing something seriously wrong.

Schools WILL BE sources of outbreak cluster. But, if we do these things we can make sure those inevitable outbreaks are small. If we ignore all these practical prevention measures we will have outbreaks of hundreds instead of handfuls.

Oh yeah, and support your schools when they inevitably make tough decisions. Literally, the first goal of school is to keep our students safe. If we feel like we cannot realistically keep students safe given an unfortunate but likely inevitable outbreak, we are going to have to make some tough decisions to keep students, staff, and our community safe.

Finally, WEAR A FRICKING MASK!

Jason Kutchma: Journey from Voter to Candidate

Until a few years ago, my civic engagement amounted to an hour every four years, an hour spent exercising my right to vote in a presidential election. That’s about seven hours for my life’s total participation in our political process.

In 2017 I opted for a change. I resolved to learn about and be a part of a democracy I sadly long took for granted. I read through my state’s party platforms. I found the one to which I most connected, the Democratic Party. I found the county website then attended a monthly business meeting.

For about a year, I dedicated an hour a month going to those meetings, sitting in the back of the room, learning about fundraising and outreach. After that initial year of learning, I started a social hour at a local brewery, a time to get together in a more informal setting. Occasionally there’s a speaker, a state representative, a congressional candidate. Most of the time, we just talk and blow off steam or brainstorm. The hour or two each month for business and social time is a modest effort but like any beginning venture, it’s perhaps more important the effort is sustained.

I learned about the organizational structure of political parties in the US. Every state is organized by counties. Every county is divided into districts. Every district is subdivided into precincts. The land area of each precinct varies on population density but it usually contains between 1500 to 2500 total voters. I became a precinct chairperson, a grassroots position acting as a liaison between the party and the voters in my precinct. I don’t know the last time my precinct had a precinct chair. Maybe a decade. Maybe decades.

For those of you that have followed my music or travels, my precinct number is, weirdly, 76.

In the fall of 2018, a few weeks before that year’s midterms, I made a list of Democrats in my precinct. I knocked on about 200 doors. I talked with mostly Democrats, some Independents and a few Republicans. People were generally nice, regardless of party. I let them know when and where to vote. I talked about our party’s candidates. Initially the conversations were awkward but my nerves got a little better as the weeks went on, as the fall days shortened and darkened, closing in on Election Day.

“Hey there, you!”

A woman in her early 30’s stopped raking the leaves in the front lawn across the street. She stared at me standing on her neighbor’s porch, knocking on her neighbor’s door.

“Yeah, you!”

“Yes?”

My knock faded to a slow light tap.

“They’re not home. They’re away.”

“Oh? Okay. Thank you.”

I tucked a flyer in the neighbor’s door handle, stepped off the neighbor’s porch, and started walking to my car.

“Hey! Hey you!”

“Yeah?”

“What’re ya doing?”

“I’m, ah, dropping off flyers.”

“For what?”

“For the, uh, um, the election. The election coming up.”

“Oh yeah? Who’re ya working for?”

I was nervous, fairly new to politickin’, a very small blue dot in a very large red state. I crossed the street and walked to the concrete steps leading up to her and her chin on her rake propping up her suspicious glare.

“Who’re ya working for?”

“What’s that?”

“Who. Are. You. Working. For.”

I squinted and noticed a sign near the foot of her front door step. A political sign.

“Oh, I uh see you’re um supporting one of our uh candidates.”

“Cindy? Cindy Wilson? For Superintendent of Public Schools? Oh yeah. She’s great.”

“Glad you’re supporting her.”

“Oh sure I support her. I’m a teacher. And I vote straight Democratic Party every election.”

Our bodies loosened.

“You typically vote Democrat?”

“Always.”

I gave her a flyer. While she scanned through it, I frantically flipped through the dozens of pages on my clipboard, “I have a list of all the registered Democrats in Precinct 76 and you’re not on the list.”

“Oh I’m not a registered Democrat.”

“You’re not?”

“No. I’m a registered Republican.”

“Why?”

“In this county, I learned years ago that for local and regional races, whoever wins the Republican primary in May, automatically wins the November general election.”

“But…why?”

“Because there’s never any Democratic opponent.”

“Never?”

She shook her head, “How long have you been in Idaho? I register as a Republican so I can have my voice heard in the primary in May and vote for the most sane, least bat shit crazy candidate. Otherwise, it’s a waste to even show up. And in a country like ours, I think that’s a shame.”

I shook her hand and thanked her for her work as a teacher. She nodded then continued to rake the leaves, spreading them out for a future xeriscaping project. I walked to my car and drove away. She waved her so long.

I drove home and wondered about the phone calls to elected officials I’ve made in the past few years. When a citizen voices concerns about an issue, why would any consistently unchallenged elected official bother to listen to someone outside of their party? Because it’s their job? A job they’ll theoretically never lose? What use are my efforts in get-out-the-vote if there’s no one to get-out-to-vote for? What good is a democracy if there’s only one candidate? What good is freedom if there’s only one choice?

Might as well go back to kings and queens.

Over the decades, when a politician acted in their own self-interest or at the behest of a powerful few, I’d silently scream “We the People!!!” to the universe, then I’d press the Angry Button or furiously press my keyboard letters with passionate missives, the beaten and worn Exclamation Point Key praying for the rare merciful day of good news. From my cubicle or my living room or my seat on the bus, I made sure my opinion was heard loud and clear in the virtual world. And yet sadly but not unexpectedly, as the years plowed on, it appeared my virtual participations did little to alter the republic’s course. I became disheartened. All of the banging and the knocking became slow light taps that eventually became nothing at all.

This February, I opted for a change. I filled out my paperwork, had it notarized, then paid the filing fee. A few weeks ago, Idaho had its primary. I am now the Democratic candidate for Idaho State Representative – District 13 Seat A. The first in eight years, the second of the past fourteen.

The three words “We the People” implicitly includes “I the Person” to hopefully seek some participatory role within “Us the Country”. Ours is a country dependent on the number of people who show up to lend their time and talent. Don’t you ever doubt that there are good people out there looking to make a difference, good people who, for whatever reason, are still optimistic at a time when family and friends are not, in an age when the headlines, the news feeds, and the comment sections suggest a drastically different world that aches in the heart, that begs for the perseverance needed to bring words written two hundred and forty some odd years ago on stiff parchment into real world practice.

I believe a healthy self-government is rooted in the work we as individuals do the other three hundred and sixty four days in between elections. I hope you find an hour or two a month, some modest yet sustained effort to see where you might find yourself within those three words of “We the People”. I hope you seek and meet others in your town or district or county that still hear some faint echo promising what this country could be. I hope you answer that echo with your own call.

I don’t plan on fundraising. The constituent base in my district is small enough in number that I can go about this with phone calls or some door knocking.

I am nervous, sure. The days will now darken earlier than the day before, closing in on Election Day. But the nerves seem to get a little bit better with each day, with each call, with each knock. And it seems the more I reach out, the more people reach back.

Time to get to work.

Originally posted on IdahoEdNews.org on May 14, 2020

DEMOCRATIC LEADERS: LITTLE’S BUDGET CUTS WOULD WORSEN ‘DISRUPTION’ IN EDUCATION

Kevin Richert 05/14/2020

Idaho’s schools were already in an “extremely precarious” position before the coronavirus pandemic, Democratic legislative leaders said Thursday, and budget cuts will only make matters worse.

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Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum

In a joint statement Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett and House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel urged Gov. Brad Little to rethink his proposal to cut $99 million from next year’s K-12 budget.

“Idaho’s children have already experienced a serious disruption to their education over the past two months, but those learning setbacks will be worsened dramatically, with long-term consequences, if the proposed education cuts become a reality,” Stennett, of Ketchum, and Rubel, of Boise, said in a news release.

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House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise

They urged Little to consider several options: using the state’s budget reserves to spare education from cuts; using tax proceeds from Internet sales, now siphoned into a separate fund to bankroll future tax cuts; and reexamining the state’s $2 billion of sales tax exemptions.

Little last week outlined his plans to cut K-12 spending. He has ordered all state agencies to plan for possible budget cuts of 5 percent next year, as tax collections wither in the wake of the pandemic.

Earlier this week, state Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, urged Little to reverse the K-12 cuts, also citing Internet taxes and the rainy-day accounts as an alternative to spending reductions. “It certainly is a rainy day and this turmoil should not be used as an excuse once again hurt public education.”

The Idaho Education Association and local teachers’ union representatives have also criticized the proposed cuts.

Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett Shares Sources of Help During COVID-19 Crisis

March 31, 2020

“When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.”  — Franklin D. Roosevelt


Financial Assistance Offered from State/Federal Programs

Senator Risch outlines some of the federal resources at these links:

https://www.risch.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?p=covid-19-outbreak


https://www.risch.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/information-on-upcoming-direct-financial-help-for-the-american-people-during-covid-19


And Sun Valley Economic Development has information here:

https://myemail.constantcontact.com/SVED-Insider-Special-Newsletter–5.html?soid=1110847617477&aid=tkh0pIyrQwQ



Medicaid
 
IDHW is reducing /removing barriers to the provision and receipt of medical care.
 
WIC (Women, Infants and Children) and SNAPP (Food Stamp) Benefits
 
IDHW is relaxing inventory requirements that grocery stores must normally meet.


 
Unemployment Insurance
 


–Will bring at least $1.25 billion to Idaho to help businesses and individuals.
Rescue Package will direct distribution of $1,200/ individual (up to $75,000/year income), $2,400/joint returns, $500/child delivered (in 3 weeks if direct deposit, longer if check is mailed).
Unemployment benefits are $250-$800/week, depending on state.
–Unemployment benefits will be increased an extra $600 per week for up to 4 months, and benefits will run for 39 weeks.
–Lending fund for businesses, educational stabilization money for schools and universities.
–Unemployment benefits will be paid for the first week of an unemployment insurance claim (referred to as a “waiting week” because benefits are not normally paid for the first week of a claim). Waiving one week waiting period for those eligible makes it easier to seek. An additional 14 days to appeal claims/decisions will be added to the existing 14 days.
–Unemployment claimants will be considered “job attached,” meaning they are assumed to be able to return to their old jobs when the crisis has passed and will not be required to look for alternative work.
–The Cares Act will also relieve employers from having to pay higher unemployment insurance taxes because of benefits paid to their employees.
Businesses who pay a quarterly employment tax, will not be charged when their employees will be laid off due to the virus. Again, an addition 14 days to appeal is added to the current 14-day time period.
These provisions are in effect beginning March 8, 2020.
 
Business Dislocation Response

Small businesses and their owners as they generally do not have access to unemployment insurance benefits, and their business resources are often very limited.  Certain small business services are “essential” in terms of the 21-day stay at home order.
 
Small Business Administration loans: website up, funds online.
–CARES Act has a Paycheck Protection Program and Loan Forgiveness provision, $350 billion
–For 100% federally guaranteed loans for 8 weeks of assistance to small businesses, 501c3, and 501c19 non-profit veteran organizations.
Disaster loans have a 3.75% interest for a business loan and 2.75% interest on a non-profit loan. SBA has 30-year amortization loans to keep payments low.
–Proprietors, independent contractors, self-employed individuals are also eligible for these loans.
–These loans can be forgiven when used for payroll costs, interest on mortgage obligations, rent and utilities.
–SBA and non-SBA lenders will be authorized to make these loans, alleviating a lot of bottleneck, including their online portal. This will be expedited and most of the lenders in Idaho are SBA lenders.
If you are going online to apply for a disaster loan, right now you can receive up to $2 million of disaster relief, an economic entry disaster loan.
 
Site www.sba.gov/disaster to apply on online portal website http://covid19relief.sba.gov/#/. Once submitted, can track your application at 800-659-2955 or email disastercustomerservice@sba.gov. SBA questions can be directed to regional office 208-334-9004 in Boise, Small Business Development Center at 208-426-3875, Treasure Valley Chapter 208-334-1696, Women’s Business Center 208-996-1572.

Resources are free. Beware of scammers. If anyone is charging for services, should be reported to SBA as scammers. Can find information on www.sba.gov/updates and the Idaho Department of Labor website.

New State Income Tax Filing Deadline: June 15, 2020

The Governor would have liked to extend the Idaho income tax filing deadline to the new federal income tax filing deadline of July 15th, but Idaho’s current budget year must be in balance on the fiscal year end of June 30th.  This necessitates receiving income tax payments that remain due before the end of the budget period.


Plus $39.3 million is being transferred from the State Tax Relief Fund to the Disaster Emergency account, the maximum under law, for critical needs PPE, test kits, lab supplies, hospital beds, to build extra facilities, and for critical childcare.
 
Renter Evictions
 
The Administration has found reaching out to large apartment complex owners fairly easy, but smaller operators are more difficult to identify and reach.  The large operators will have access to government loans.  The Governor noted that eviction cases are not a high priority for the courts now, that his Administration has been working with utilities, including cable companies, to keep services in place and that appeals have been made to small and large apartment owners not to evict for nonpayment of rent. The Governor noted that it doesn’t make sense to evict right now because it is unlikely an apartment can be re-rented to someone else who can pay rent. 
 
 
2020 Census

It is especially important during this difficult time to participate in the 2020 Census, everyone. An incredible amount of services and infrastructure rely on the Census data which impacts the quality of all our lives. The easiest way to be counted is online at 2020census.gov.




Sincerely,
Michelle

The Lack of Dollars and ‘Sense’ in Idaho Schools

by Levi Cavener, Invest in Idaho organizer for Canyon County (published 2/05/2020 by Idaho Education News)

The National Education Association (NEA) has finished compiling their annual analysis of our country’s state-by-state education spending. The results show that for all the talk of increasing education spending in Idaho, we are just barely keeping pace with inflation.

It has nothing to do with the dollars and cents spent on education in comparison to the country as a whole. Rather, it is because Idaho has fallen so far behind our regional peers that is akin to be handed the baton in a race for the last relay when all the other teams have already crossed the finished line.

Some numbers: Idaho’s average teaching salary is $49,225. In dollars and cents, that doesn’t sound so bad. But keep in mind that Idaho must compete with our neighboring states to attract and retain teachers, particularly in communities where crossing the state line is as simple as adding a few more minutes to the daily commute.

This is why Idaho’s average teaching salary is stuck on the track while all the other teams have crossed over the finish line. The numbers for some of our neighboring states: Oregon, $63,061; Washington, $55,693; Wyoming, $58,352. In fact, Idaho’s average salary is lower than every single one of the states surrounding our borders.

It is no wonder why it is so hard for Idaho to attract and retain teachers. Our regional peers are lapping us on the track. It would be comical if the consequences of our lack of competitive pay didn’t have such real world implications.

It gets worse. According the the study, Idaho’s per pupil spending is now dead last in America. The Gem State spends just $6,809 per student. Utah, which had this dubious honor last year, has now passed us. If the goal in this race is first to be last, we sure are doing a good job of it.

And it’s not that Idaho needs to spend as much as the rest of the country does on their own education expenditures. It is that Idaho needs to at least be competitive with our regional neighbors. Nevada commits about a third more with $9,548. Montana spends almost double us with $11,540 per student. Wyoming spends $16,529. We should be embarrassed and equally ashamed.

And our young people should be angry. They should be upset that despite our state’s constitutional mandate to provide a thorough and uniform education, their educational opportunities are defined by the zip code they live inside.

They should be furious that the sin of being born into a district that cannot pass a levy dictates having opportunities to career technical training, advanced placement courses, and STEM opportunities such as coding and robotics.

And Idaho’s property owners should be equally outraged. They are being fleeced in the form of permanent “supplemental” levies used to pay for “supplemental” items like paying the electric bill. Just ask Kamiah School District. When their small $500,000 levy failed, the district literally had to shutter their middle school. Levies are no longer supplemental when we must close down schools if they do not pass.

The fact is, the state failing to provide adequate dollars to our schools, and property owners are picking up the tab. Reclaim Idaho is supporting a ballot initiative to put the onus back on the state to adequately fund our public schools. Sign the petition today at ReclaimIdaho.Org

America should be the “shining city on the hill”

by Tom Sullivan, former candidate for U.S. Senate, Idaho

I’m completely disgusted and repulsed by our politics. Our political process is completely broken! We have a president who is a serial liar. Trump is admittedly colluding with foreign strongman leaders and the entire lot of spineless sycophant republican senators won’t even allow a fair trial.

What don’t I love? The Supreme Court, which was delegitimized with the stolen seat of Merrick Garland, just voted 5-4 to allow wealth testing to be a determining factor for immigration. I don’t love the fact that we are participating and financing two genocides right now in both Palestine and Syria. I don’t love the fact that we’ve decided to promote Cristian prayer in schools while preventing freedom of the same for Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs and others. I don’t love the fact that corporations and coal companies are once again allowed to poison and pollute our rivers and waterways. I’m immensely saddened that we are the lone member of developed countries to not participate in the battle against global warming.

I want an America where we lift up those that need help rather than insult them and call them weak. I want an America that leads the world in science and art and protecting the planet for future generations. I want an America that recognizes that we created millions of climate refugees that need our help and protection rather than just slamming our doors while we rob them of all their natural resources. I want an America that values the truth above conspiracy. I want an America that is willing, at least to acknowledge the past and present wrongs it has inflicted on millions of Americans through racism.

America is supposed to be the “Shining city on the hill”, with morality, compassion, fairness, equal opportunity, leadership and love. America, right now has abandoned all of these qualities under the stewardship of the most profoundly arrogant and hate filled and ignorant child our country has ever seen as a president. I do not believe our America can withstand another four years of Trump and I believe if you love America, as I do, you have to get involved. It is not possible to look the other way and hope that the problem corrects itself. DO ONE THING, to make a difference. If you volunteer one day, give one donation, go to one political event, just do one thing, you can make a difference. And, no matter where you live, even if your vote doesn’t count, VOTE!

Idaho Dems must stay vigilant

Van Beechler, Chair, ISD

Jan 21, 2020

As we head into the 2020 legislative session, my message to Idaho Democrats is simple: stay vigilant.

During the 2019 session, we saw many victories for hardworking Idahoans. The Republicans introduced a bill to destroy our Democracy and do away with the bipartisan redistricting commission paving the way for a gerrymandered Idaho. Idaho Democrats stood up and forced the bill back to committee and had it killed.

We celebrated.

After hundreds of thousands of Idahoans voted to expand Medicaid in 2018, the Republicans passed a bill to put their foot on the throats of voters and take away their voice and our initiative process. After thousands of Idahoans and Idaho Democrats made their voices heard, Gov. Brad Little vetoed Senate Bill 1159.

We celebrated some more.

Idaho Democrats passed some great legislation, ranging from mandating nearly all sexual assault kits be tested to requiring insurance companies to cover hearing aid costs for Idaho’s children, to name a couple.

We celebrated even more. Now, it’s time to get back to work.

As Idaho Democrats, it is our responsibility to stop harmful Republican legislation from making its way into Idaho’s statutes. This is a tough job, but when we come together, we succeed.

As I was listening to Governor Little’s State of the State address, I was pleased to hear him repeating what Idaho Democrats have spent decades fighting for, like properly funding public education, preserving our public lands, and expanding broadband access to our rural communities.

While I appreciate him highlighting successes of Idaho’s public schools, our state still has a long way to go, particularly when it comes to literacy. In my home city of Caldwell— which has one of the highest poverty rates in the state— only 51 percent of public school students finished the year at grade level, falling behind other large districts in the state, according to the 2018-19 Idaho Reading Indicator scores. It’s time our legislature truly prioritized education and made it available for every Idaho kid regardless of their zip code.

As we’ve learned from previous sessions, just because a bill dies doesn’t mean it won’t come back to life. We will likely see the return of an effort to gerrymander and to put restrictions on our ballot initiative process this session, both of which would have devastating impacts on Idaho’s democracy.

Any progress we make in the legislature or the senate can be taken away in the blink of an eye if we get too comfortable. When we stop paying attention, stop calling our representatives, and stop being informed, that’s when we lose all the progress we’ve made.

I am determined to stay vigilant and tireless when it comes to making positive changes in our state. We can’t assume someone else will do the work, we can’t let up when we think the fight is over. It’s 2020, and there are no more excuses. I look forward to standing shoulder-to-shoulder with you this year.

Van Beechler is the chair of the Idaho Democratic Party.

December 3, 2019: Income tax cuts hurt Idaho

by Idaho State Senator Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, and Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, Minority Leader of the Idaho House.

When the Legislature orders counties to carry out state functions but fails to provide the money to do so, local property taxpayers pay the price. As a result, residential property taxes are sky-high in many counties, and citizens are demanding relief.

The inability of the state to pay these costs stems from its long history of cutting state income taxes to primarily benefit the wealthy. In depriving the state of revenue to pay its bills, they’ve forced costs on to local governments and school districts and increased property taxes on all of us. Although some state politicians like to talk about their cuts coming to a billion dollars over the years, they don’t seem to acknowledge their role in increasing our property taxes.

For example, the 2018 income tax cut is costing the state at least $129 million in revenue each year. Such cuts have prevented the state from properly funding the schools and have resulted in property tax override levies that will total $214 million this year.

Income tax cuts also deprive the state of the revenue it needs to house a significant number of its prisoners. Instead, a good number are in county jails, with Ada County now having about 326 of them. The Ada County jail has become so crowded it is in violation of mandatory jail accreditation standards, with some prisoners sleeping on the floor. Although a state prisoner costs the average county $86.55 per day, a state prisoner costs some counties as much $112 per day and Ada County about $102 per day. The state only pays $55 per day for the prisoner’s first seven days and $75 per day thereafter. Consequently, Ada County is forced to subsidize the state prison system by $1.6 to $1.8 million per year, and that doesn’t even consider that the state should, but doesn’t, pay a proportionate share of the cost to build and expand the jail. One wonders if Canyon County might have been able to solve its continuing jail crowding problem many years ago if the state had simply paid the full cost of housing its prisoners.

And jails are just one of the state’s unpaid bills. The Legislature’s total unfunded county mandates are in the many millions of dollars per year. For example, county property taxpayers subsidize each sheriff issued driver’s license by $3; and counties must spend $12 million a year on indigent health care, $8 million a year on involuntary mental health commitments and $32 million a year on public defenders. The list of unfunded state mandates goes on and on.

Another reason residential property taxes are sky-rocketing is that the Legislature significantly reduced the homestead exemption in 2016, thereby shifting a significant amount of the property tax burden from business to residential property. Unfortunately, efforts to repeal this shift were blocked in the Idaho House last session.

Rather than repeal the property tax shift and require the state to pay its own bills, some inside and outside the Legislature say local governments have caused the property tax crisis by spending too much. They want to lower local government budget caps still further by barring any budget growth based on new construction. New construction is, however, a factor the law expressly allows to cover budget costs stemming from population and economic growth. That growth must pay for itself. Pretending it isn’t there, and that it doesn’t impose significant costs on local communities, won’t make it so. Arbitrarily lowering budget caps will either force cuts in public safety and other services or force overrides, which will mean no real property tax relief.

When it comes to property tax relief, the Legislature’s priorities should be to pay the state’s bills and repeal the property tax shift, not cut vital local services.

November 8, 2019:  What Risch didn’t say

by Betty Hansen Richardson, former U.S. Attorney for Idaho

A few days ago, I posted that I had received an invitation to participate in Sen. Jim Risch’s tele-town hall to be held from 7-8 p.m. on Wednesday November 7. I was told I would receive a call from the Senator’s office, and all I needed to do to participate was to stay on the line. The call is now history, and I thought those of you who missed it might like to know a little about it.

This was the second Risch “tele-town hall,” in which I’ve participated. The script was much the same. The senator began the call touting his work on the Women’s Business Center, agricultural issues and energy-related issues involving the Idaho National Laboratory. Then a pleasant voiced person named Marty, who facilitated the call, asked the senator to talk about impeachment.

In response, the senator gave his listeners a self-styled history lesson on impeachment. That was all well and good; however, he dropped any charade of objectivity by whining about the party-line vote in the House of Representatives and complaining that the House was “operating in secret chambers.”

Risch did not acknowledge that Republicans who sit on the germane committees were allowed to fully participate in the proceedings. He did not mention that the transcripts of the depositions are being made public, and he did not mention that public hearings will begin next week. He concluded by griping that “impeachment is truly sucking the oxygen out of the air. We have a lot to do and there are matters on the back burner.”

Of course he made no mention of the fact that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refuses to allow the Senate to consider a couple hundred bills passed by the House. I would posit that it is McConnell who is “truly sucking the oxygen out” of the legislative air.

Then it was time for the first call.

Imagine my surprise when the first caller to ask a question was one of the same people who got to ask a question on the last call. What are the chances that the same Idahoan would get picked twice by the Risch staff to ask his question?

The caller asked whether and when the Keystone Pipeline would be built. Risch assured the caller that the pipeline was happening. He then touted the fact that the U.S. is now the largest oil producing nation in the world. He did not acknowledge the impact that fossil fuels have on our environment nor did he say one word about alternative energy development.

The next caller asked about the senator’s view on tariffs. After calling himself a “free-trader,” Risch lauded the president’s “re-negotiation” of NAFTA and his determination to hold “China’s feet to the fire.” On both counts, Risch said he and some of his colleagues at first “cringed” when they heard of the president’s actions but — by golly — it turns out the president was right. The president, it seems, likes bi-lateral agreements better than multi-lateral agreements, and Risch is just fine with that.

The next caller asked about the Colombia River Treaty. Risch said that the treaty was intended to address two concerns — flood control and generating electricity. He did not want the treaty to address salmon.

The next caller asked about cyber-security. Risch acknowledged the growing threat of cyber attacks and noted that a lot of money had been allocated to fight such attacks. He did not mention the fact that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refuses to allow the Senate to vote on House passed legislation to protect our 2020 elections.

The next call came from someone who expressed concern about the national debt. Risch gave what he called a “mini-tutorial” on spending, complaining that three-fourths of our spending goes to what Risch called “entitlements” — things like Social Security, Medicare, and Veterans’ Benefits. He told his listeners that these programs are causing the problem and that “spending has to be reformed.” I believe that translates to a desire to cut spending on Social Security, Medicare, and Veterans’ Benefits, but the term “reformed,” obscures that intent.

Risch did not mention that, since passage of the president’s tax relief act for the wealthy and corporations, the deficit had ballooned, there were few signs of investment but plenty of stock buy-backs, special interest breaks and loopholes. He also did not mention that factories and jobs are more likely to go overseas.

The next caller asked the senator to give his views on “sanctuary cities.” Risch declared he was a “hawk” when it comes to border security, that a nation can’t have control of its sovereignty unless it has control of its borders. He supports the president in all things border-related. He did not mention the president’s family separation policy or the practice of housing children in cages.

I had to take another call so I wasn’t able to listen to the last 10 minutes of the Risch call. I doubt I missed much. It seems I learned more about Risch’s stands on the issues by considering what he avoided discussing than what he chose to talk about.

November 6, 2019: Rural teachers need debt relief

by Rep. Sally Toone, D-Gooding, District 26, and Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D- Boise,  District 18

The average teacher graduating with their bachelor’s degree is taking on over $26,000 in student loan debt. If a teacher decides that they want to go on to pursue a master’s degree, there is significantly more debt. With those levels of student debt, a brand-new Idaho teacher looks at payments between $200-$400 a month. On a salary of around $40,000 a year, Idaho’s educators are often working 2 or 3 jobs just to make loan payments on time. It’s no surprise that teachers leave Idaho for better opportunities in other states.
 

Unfortunately, our rural school districts are feeling the impact the most. Rural schools make up about 75% of all Idaho’s districts and most of them are struggling to fill teaching positions. Rural districts have to get creative to make sure that students have a teacher in the classroom by doing things like allowing unlicensed teachers in the classroom. Parents in rural districts have no choice but to send their kids to schools with teachers who are not certified to teach and may be lacking necessary credentials.

 

For the last several sessions, Idaho Democrats have introduced legislation that would give student loan relief to rural teachers. It hasn’t made it to the desk of the Governor because the legislature has refused to make this necessary investment in Idaho’s teachers. We are committed to bringing this legislation back again this year because our rural schools need this option.

Public schools are the cornerstone of Idaho’s rural communities, but they have been left behind by the legislature. It’s unreasonable and shortsighted to keep asking highly educated individuals to work in rural schools when the best we have to offer is the need to work two or three jobs just to make ends meet. Many of our teachers have been willing to take this deal because they are so dedicated to educating Idaho’s youth, but it is not sustainable. Every year, we lose more and more teachers to states that are willing to show educators the appreciation that they deserve.
 

We cannot have an educated workforce, a thriving economy, or a successful state if we do not provide our students a quality education. Idaho’s teachers and students are our most valuable asset. Our rural communities are counting on us.

 
 

Democratic leaders: Little’s budget cuts would worsen ‘disruption’ in education

Originally posted on IdahoEdNews.org on May 14, 2020

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DEMOCRATIC LEADERS: LITTLE’S BUDGET CUTS WOULD WORSEN ‘DISRUPTION’ IN EDUCATION

Kevin Richert 05/14/2020

Idaho’s schools were already in an “extremely precarious” position before the coronavirus pandemic, Democratic legislative leaders said Thursday, and budget cuts will only make matters worse.

Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum

In a joint statement Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett and House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel urged Gov. Brad Little to rethink his proposal to cut $99 million from next year’s K-12 budget.

“Idaho’s children have already experienced a serious disruption to their education over the past two months, but those learning setbacks will be worsened dramatically, with long-term consequences, if the proposed education cuts become a reality,” Stennett, of Ketchum, and Rubel, of Boise, said in a news release.

House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise

They urged Little to consider several options: using the state’s budget reserves to spare education from cuts; using tax proceeds from Internet sales, now siphoned into a separate fund to bankroll future tax cuts; and reexamining the state’s $2 billion of sales tax exemptions.

Little last week outlined his plans to cut K-12 spending. He has ordered all state agencies to plan for possible budget cuts of 5 percent next year, as tax collections wither in the wake of the pandemic.

Earlier this week, state Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, urged Little to reverse the K-12 cuts, also citing Internet taxes and the rainy-day accounts as an alternative to spending reductions. “It certainly is a rainy day and this turmoil should not be used as an excuse once again hurt public education.”

The Idaho Education Association and local teachers’ union representatives have also criticized the proposed cuts.