In a few hours Gov. Otter will unveil his agenda for Idaho’s 2015 legislative session. Most of us will be pleased by some items and upset by others. Last year’s refusal to recommend needed educational funding still rankles me. Fortunately, the legislature gave education more than lip service.
I generally hope for the best possible agenda from a conservative governor who faces fierce opposition from the right wing of his party.
Down deep, however, I yearn for actions that would truly be the best for the people of Idaho. Here is what I’d like to hear the Governor say.
We may take four major steps to save taxpayers’ money and stimulate the economy.
First, we will stop wasting taxpayer money on lawsuits for purely political purposes. The Supreme Court will rule on same sex marriage based on lawsuits brought by individuals in Michigan, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio and Louisiana without Idaho’s help. Our task force rightfully concluded that Idaho can’t afford to manage these federal lands because, unlike in Utah, our lands don’t have oil reserves to exploit. And Obama’s executive order on immigration doesn’t differ enough from dozens of similar orders by previous presidents to expect the courts to change it. That’s up to Congress.
Second, we will save taxpayer money by staffing the Tax Commission enough to ensure adequate enforcement of tax laws and by expanding Medicaid to cover those who don’t make enough to benefit from the Affordable Care Act. The latter will not only save lives, but will reward, rather than punish, people for being employed. In addition, we will work to get Federal approval of a school broadband contract that is not biased toward my campaign donors.
Third, now that nearly half the states have raised their minimum wage above $7.25 an hour without economic catastrophe, Idaho will plan for annual increments that will allow one person with a full-time job to pay for basic food, rent and transportation for two people. Idaho taxpayers must stop subsidizing the labor costs of profitable businesses.
Fourth, we will heed the opinion of over 70% of Idahoans and “add the words” to extend basic rights to housing and employment in spite of sexual orientation and gender identity.
There are also four areas in which we must invest money for the future: education, infrastructure, jobs, and justice.
We must bring our public school funding per student up to pre-recession levels before we concern ourselves with major changes. We want schools to remain focused on education young people rather than on filing reports. We will continue to listen to parents and educations as we work to prioritize the Educational Task Force recommendations.
We must find the $300 million necessary to maintain our roads and bridges. We will recommend increases in gasoline taxes, vehicle license fees, and use of general funds in order to spread the burden. Remember, this measure will add jobs that stimulate the economy as well as protecting the state from lawsuits resulting from continued negligence.
We must work with private companies to provide the workforce development and technical education to make hiring here more attractive. We will also invest in university laboratories and research; they are business incubators. We will encourage continued expansion of wind and solar power generation.
We must continue to improve our justice system by providing an effective public defender system and providing basic treatment for substance abuse and mental illness.
And, finally, we must find a way to give state employees a 3 percent pay increase.
Join with me in working toward a more prosperous Idaho.