Monday, Jan. 11, 2016
BOISE—Idaho Democratic lawmakers gave their annual address to Idaho today in the Capitol. Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett and House Asst. Minority Leader Mat Erpelding delivered the following address to the Capitol Press Corps:

Full 2016 Democratic Address to Idaho

Year after year, we have spoken at the beginning of legislative sessions and delivered this same message: our priorities are driven by what Idaho families, workers, businesses and communities need to prosper.

Year after year, our priorities have remained emphatic:

Create opportunity for every Idahoan by building a strong business climate, and advancing policies that improve pay.
Invest in a complete education plan from Early Childhood through college or professional technical training.
Reduce government waste by advancing policies to increase accountability, transparency, and efficiency.
Advance common sense solutions to improve our communities including quality health care for Idahoans.
Protect our public lands legacy so our children and grandchildren can have the access we cherish today.

We have consistently asked this question first: Is this right for the people of Idaho?

Another principle is just as important: If this is the right thing to do, then it is worth doing right.

We are slowly emerging from the great recession and the Luna laws. Yet only a portion of the education task force recommendations have been enacted. At best, if the governor and the politicians were students in a classroom, our teacher would give us an “incomplete.”

Twice in his speech today, the governor proposed getting us to 2009 levels or accomplishing 2009 goals as if that were a laudable achievement.

We cannot compete in today’s economy if we are still trying to catch up to 2009.

Touting modest funding increases as “on the right path” or “getting better” is not leadership. We believe students in 2016 need funding commensurate with today and not with seven years ago. More schools districts than ever are forced to pass supplemental levies to survive – unfair taxes that residents pass to protect their children. A promise made should be a promise kept. True leadership would work to correct this unequal educational system in Idaho.

When it comes to our children’s futures, it’s worth doing right.

We agree and eagerly support the governor’s intention to address climate change, cyber-security, aquifer recharge, and building a 21st century mission for our Air National Guard.

Yet, our economy needs serious attention because Idaho remains a “low-wage state.” The governor recognizes that colleges and universities have been suffering since 2008, but recognition is different than leadership. It is critical we help businesses partner with higher education to create the skilled workforce Idaho needs. We should raise Idaho’s minimum wage–now. Idahoans deserve a better wage, which help everyone reach economic stability.

Currently, fifty percent of our Idaho college graduates move away from Idaho within 4 years. The reality is that we have created an economy that does not provide Idahoans with the means to care for a family. Idaho business leaders tell us we need to prepare and retain Idahoans.

Governor Otter only proposed training workers but his statements lacked any substance on how to keep those we train in our beautiful state. We believe growing our economy is worth doing right.

We support putting money into the pockets of Idahoans, which supports small businesses. Idaho must incentivize businesses to cover education expenses of their employees. Idaho businesses and individuals also need to connect and compete on a global scale through expansion of our state’s broadband infrastructure, and Idaho businesses must have the first consideration in government contracting.

Let’s build our economy responsibly. We also propose a sunset on all existing tax exemptions, so they may be reviewed routinely to measure their effectiveness and necessity.

That’s what Idahoans want. That’s what Idaho’s Democratic lawmakers want. That’s what we will work to accomplish.

When it comes to solving many of Idaho’s problems, we consistently see the same barrier to success:

It’s not a case of not having resources; it’s a case of putting those resources in the wrong places.

For instance, the governor’s expensive proposal, which we call “Ottercare,” fails to give 78,000 Idahoans including 10,000 veterans the medical care they need. In essence, the proposal provides a few doctor visits, but does not support services most likely to cause severe financial hardship. His plan omits hospital care, emergency medical transportation, cancer care, expensive prescriptions, and mental health care — which is particularly harmful to our veterans and their families dealing with PTSD.

Under Ottercare, some Idahoans would have to drive over 50 miles to get to an approved doctor and the coverage will be sparse.

To add to this, Ottercare comes at triple the price. First, by refusing a full-service Medicaid plan, we pay federal taxes for a benefit Idaho does not receive. Second, we continue to pay local taxes to the CAT fund for indigent care. Third, Ottercare adds on another 30 million dollar public expenditure.

We point out that after much fanfare and excitement, the plan is so faulty he left it out of this address.

We believe that it is long past time to fix our broken system that has wasted millions of Idaho tax dollars.

In recent years, we’ve seen millions misspent on contracts for private prisons, school internet, and other poorly executed government spending projects. Atop that, Idaho squanders millions a year on state and outside lawyers to defend unconstitutional legislation.

This is not right. And, in his speech, the Governor spoke of its value. If he had used his resources wisely, the fund would not be empty and without a winning record.

This year we will propose an Office of Inspector General where complaints can be investigated and contracts can be reviewed. Time and time again, Idahoans have told us they want to stamp out waste and corruption in Idaho government. We agree this is something that is worth doing right.

Together and individually, Idaho Democratic legislators will work to improve the health, safety and prosperity of all Idaho workers, families, businesses and communities.

We are actively working on our top issues, which include the following:

  • a better health care plan than Ottercare
  • protecting our access to public lands
  • fully investing in education
  • promoting good government
  • protecting Idahoans from criminals
  • promoting a strong economic environment
  • struggling to see that no person suffers from the indignity of discrimination
  • increasing the minimum wage
  • making higher education more affordable

We look forward to working with the governor and our peers across the aisle. We are serious about tackling the problems that exist today. We promise that we will be tough, but fair.

Fair and tough means that we will hold the Governor and the Legislature to this simple standard: If it’s the right thing to do, then it is worth doing it right.

Published by Judy Ferro

Judy Ferro is communication director for the 2C Dems and a columnist for the Idaho Press.

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