Legislature: What are they thinking?

by Judy Ferro

Are things getting really confusing or is it just me? One way or the other, I‘ve got more questions than answers this week.

Take the Madison School District’s decision to use MAP testing rather than the Common Core-based SBAC. I think the Madison School Board should be able to opt for a test which they feel is adequate, cheaper, and takes less time away from instruction.

But if enough Idaho students don’t take the test, that could cost the state $2 million in Federal funding each year. Oops, the State Department of Education has revised that number to $10 million. Is it right for the Madison School Board to injure students across the state?

Or not. A bill introduced in February, S1085, put the cost of non-compliance at $621,754, just 1% of the Title I funds that Idaho receives. The 11 co-sponsors said that we are paying $1.8 million for the SBAC.  According to them, if Idaho dropped the test, either losing the waiver or getting a new one allowing use of the cheaper MAP test, the state would save over $1 million

So how big is the penalty–$2 million, $10 million, or $621, 754? And are we getting $1.8 million in benefit from the new test? (Just now, when high school students should be researching their final projects and writing their reports, computer labs are tied up with testing for six weeks or so.)

The “instant racing” debate also bothers me. Apparently, the legislature approved betting terminals while believing that skill was involved and now believes they are slot machines and, therefore, illegal. Why didn’t they know this before authorizing them? The machines have been around for a while—some states banned them in 2003. Even two years ago there were several videos on-line showing the machines operating and opponents arguing in court about them. How could legislatures construe betting on a 3-second video as a skill? But now that Idaho’s racetracks have invested in the machines, couldn’t outlawing them be construed as seizing property without due process?

Even more baffling, however, is why the legislature can’t come up with a bill for funding roads and bridges. They’ve spent weeks looking for a tax-neutral solution that would provide more money. Pie-in-the-sky. The closest they’ve come is proposing cutting into the rainy-day fund.

The bills House leaders introduced with fanfare last Thursday would pair increasing gas taxes and registration fees with cutting the top income tax bracket. Isn’t that just one more way of transferring tax money from the general fund to transportation? It will result in cuts to schools and state services as certainly as switching state police costs to the general fund. Drs. Dan Schmidt and John Rusche suggested they’d do better by accepting more Federal Medicaid funds. (The 450 lives that could be saved annually apparently don’t concern most legislators.)

I’m not in favor of raising taxes paid by the middle class and the poor, but the amounts suggested are reasonable. Bills would raise the gasoline tax to $0.32 a gallon; Washington is now paying $0.375 and anticipating a raise to $0.492. We’d still be paying less for gasoline that we did a year ago and this would bring in $42-$65 million annually for roads.

Raising car registration fees by $15 would raise another $20 million and still leave the cost of registering my vehicle less than a Washington motorist was paying in 1970.

Roads need more though.  When will our legislators give up chasing rainbows and admit they must raise more money and/or cut more programs?

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