by Judy Ferro
As your mythical Democratic governor, I thank you for this opportunity to state my recommendations for the 2016 legislature.
I appreciate that legislative committees and task forces have been preparing legislation for consideration by the Senate and the House. The concern and diligence of these legislators will help make it possible for this session to be both productive and short. My recommendations don’t always agree with theirs, but I hope you will give them serious consideration.
First, I recommend that we make no change to our current tax system. Tax cuts may be a tradition in election years, but there is no evidence that further cuts will enhance our State’s economic health at this time. Not only has Idaho’s mix of taxes been ranked as one of the fairest in the nation, over 60% of Idahoans support keeping them as they are. Our priorities lie elsewhere.
Second, I recommend that Idaho join the growing number of states that are raising the minimum wage. Although I have doubted, the data is now clear: states that raise their minimum wage have increased job growth. Idaho can no longer wait for the U.S. Congress to act. A large catch-up change would hurt Idaho businesses large and small and seriously wound our economy. We need to start incremental increases that will put us on a par with Montana’s $7.80 and, then, Nevada’s $8.25. Wages for teens and waitpersons should be raised proportionally.
Third, I do appreciate the efforts of legislators who have come up with a uniquely Idaho plan for providing health insurance to those who are currently in the “gap” between Medicaid and benefits from the Affordable Care Act. The sad fact, however, is that this plan would cost Idaho taxpayers $300 million over the next ten years. We cannot afford it.
I recommend, instead, that we expand and reform Medicaid to include the 80,000 who are not currently covered. Expansion will offer broader coverage than the new plan, thus improving and extending lives, while saving Idaho taxpayer millions.
Fourth, we must not only fulfill the promises we made to the public schools last session, we must also make a serious effort to restore funds previously cut from Idaho colleges and universities. As tuition has increased, we have successfully offered a number of scholarships to encourage highly qualified students to stay in the state. I want to see legislation on my desk that would authorize new scholarships based on students’ financial need. Fifty years ago, colleges typically tried to meet 80% of a student’s need as indicated by the FAFSA; Idaho should strive to meet that standard again.
Fifth, I say it is time that Idaho “Add the Words” and protect our gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transsexual citizens from discrimination in housing and employment. Last year’s hearing made it all too clear that such discrimination not only exists, but also handicaps a number of Idaho’s capable and hardworking individuals.
Finally, send me a plan that will accelerate maintenance of Idaho’s infrastructure.
Each of these steps is important in declaring that “Idaho is open for business.” We are not a backwater, the poor cousin of our wealthier neighbors. Nor are we slave to prejudice, fear, or hate. Idaho is a magnificent state with a resourceful, optimistic populace. We rank first in the nation in volunteer hours for a reason: Idahoans care.
Our state must continue to welcome and reward those who are willing to work and achieve.
Thank you. I know we all look forward to a cordial, productive, and short legislative session.