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Where We Stand

Honest differences are often a healthy sign of progress.
~ Mahatma Gandhi

Where's the Money?

April revenues for the State of Idaho came in $55 Million lower than anticipated. How do we make ends meet in the state budget, without raising taxes, when revenues are drying up?

On February 1, 2009, the Idaho Freedom Foundation's Wayne Hoffman wrote, "An audit of the Idaho Transportation Department shows as much as $37 million could be saved by changing procedures and operations within the agency. That alone should be cause for pause. Each penny increase in the gas tax raises $9 million, according to the state Transportation Department. That means four cents of the 10-cent fuel tax increase won't even cover the cost of inefficiency."

On March 31, 2010, the Idaho Statesman Editorial Board opined,

"From January 2007 to September 2009, Idaho spent $6.8 million holding prisoners past their tentative parole dates. When dollars are tight everywhere in state government - including the prisons system - this estimate from state auditors should pique the curiosity of Gov. Butch Otter.

Yet Otter largely dismissed the audit scrutinizing Idaho's Commission of Pardons and Parole - and criticizing Olivia Craven, the commissions longtime and politically connected executive director."

Clearly, there are savings to be had by running state government more efficiently. In less than a year, my two Ada County Commission colleagues and I cut the county's budget by more than 11 percent - $22 Million - by eliminating or consolidating departments and finding wasteful, unnecessary spending and eliminating that, as well. All this was done without appreciably cutting services.

In addition to cutting unnecessary spending, revenue can be increased without a tax increase, if the state's administration were to vigorously pursue the collection of unpaid taxes and other payables already due the state.

Here are suggestions of some other places where attention should be focused and savings methodically pursued:

• Consolidate school district administration. Currently, less than half of the public education employees in Idaho are classroom teachers.
• Reclaim durable medical equipment that has been purchased with state funds. For example, once the need is no longer there, we can reclaim and reuse $8000 scooters, provided to people who are disabled.
• Realize greater economies of scale with a consolidated purchasing department for school districts and other government agencies.
• Parole inmates on time to save money. According to a Legislative audit, it cost an estimated $6.8 Million to keep parole-eligible inmates in prison from January 2007 through September 2009.
• Increase use of alternative sentencing. Twenty-five percent of inmates are in prison for drug and alcohol offenses.
• Put the state's checkbook online and let taxpayers help find wasteful spending.
• Use performance auditors to find wasteful spending and assure that dollars are spent wisely.
• Implement a “workfare program to replace the current welfare system.
• Reduce duplication of effort by consolidating commissions, boards, departments, agencies and districts.

Ultimately, we need to look at the proper role of government and set priorities.

Health Care Solutions
Ben Franklin was right when he said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, particularly with regard to health care.

As taxpayers, we pay the bills for people who cannot afford medical care yet end up in emergency rooms – sometimes with conditions that could have been prevented with relatively inexpensive preventive care services. In addition, many people who go to the emergency room at taxpayer expense aren’t in critical condition, but they cannot obtain medical care elsewhere because they are uninsured or cannot afford to pay a doctor.

Although health care reform is needed, I do not believe that the Obama administration has found the solution. Rejecting Obama’s program is a good first step, but it ultimately does nothing to solve the problem. In fact, last year, Idaho's current administration tried to pass $6.2 million worth of state health care expense down to county property taxpayers.

There are simple changes that can be made in our current health care system that will address some of the challenges, such as allowing the sale and purchase of health insurance across state lines. More competition should lead to lower rates. At the local level, I’ve come up with another piece of the solution as well.

With the support of my Board colleagues, I have been working on a pilot project to cut costs for both county and state taxpayers for people who are unable to pay for their own medical care. Ada County has teamed up with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, the Central District Health Department, and Idaho State University, the state’s designated Health Sciences University, to implement preventive health care screenings.

ISU students in nursing, pharmacy, dental, nutrition, counseling and other programs need opportunities to obtain hands-on training and experience. By bringing these students, with appropriate supervision by instructors, into the community to provide no-cost preventive health care screenings, it is our hope to curb the number of patients who seek costly medical health services in an emergency room setting at taxpayer expense. When a medical problem is detected, the patient is provided information on how to obtain low-cost treatment at clinics that provide services on a sliding-scale basis.

The last screening in Ada County took place in April at the Vineyard Christian Church. Screenings will resume in the fall when school is back in session. In the future, it is our goal to implement a similar program in other counties throughout the state.

The purpose of this health care pilot project is to promote personal responsibility for one’s own health through the provision of easily obtainable and affordable preventive health care services which will in turn lead to healthier people and less of a financial burden on taxpayers.

While the national health care debate rages on, here in Ada County, we are already doing something about the problem. Preventive health care education and screenings by students is solution-based government in action. It’s not the entire solution but it effectively helps people to help themselves and will ultimately save state and local taxpayers money as well.

The Economy and Jobs
My team of political advisers and I have developed a three-part plan to stimulate Idaho’s lagging economy and promote job growth.

Part One: Hire Idaho. Through the use of tax credits, encourage employers to hire people who are already living in Idaho and/or who graduated from Idaho schools.

Part Two: Support small business development through tax incentives. The answer to our economic woes is not big business, it’s small business. For too long, Idaho has relied heavily on a few major employers. When things change, such as the bottom falling out of the computer technology industry, the impact on Idaho can be devastating. The solution is not to rebuild what we had, but to replace it with small business.

Part Three: Stop government waste to reduce taxes when and where possible and don’t over regulate.

The Governor doesn’t have a plan, according to the speech I heard him present to the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce on July 28. On July 29, AP Reporter John Dvorak observed that, “Otter's address to Boise business leaders was more pep talk than detailed blueprint for emerging from a recession…. Well into the recession, the Governor will finally be holding a business summit and an innovation summit to see if someone else can come up with something.

Unbalanced Budget
The state is currently violating the Idaho Constitution, Article VII, Section 11 – EXPENDITURE NOT TO EXCEED APPROPRIATION.

Claims by the Governor that we have a balanced budget are simply untrue. At the present time, the state has over $650 Million in GARVEE bond debt, for which we taxpayers are paying over $50 Million a year in interest. In addition, payments due for Catastrophic Fund claims and payments to Medicaid providers are being delayed from one to two months, until the start of the next fiscal year in July, because expenditures are outpacing budgeted revenues.

According to a state budget analyst, if the current administration had taken a more proactive approach to the budget, we would not be in the challenging situation with the budget that we are today.

When I took office as an Ada County Commissioner for the second time, in January of 2009, the county’s budget was $193 Million. Within less than a year, my colleagues and I had reduced the budget by $22 Million, to $171 Million without appreciably cutting services by consolidating departments, finding and cutting wasteful, unnecessary spending, and cutting unnecessary positions. The same approach will work in state government, as well.

I did not support raising taxes for roads during the 2009 legislative session. Click here to see my opposition.

According to the Reason Foundation’s June 2007 Report on Road Conditions, Idaho’s roads rank 10th in the nation in terms of overall performance. Roads should wait until the economy picks up. In the meantime, the highest priority for the transportation dollars we do have should be addressing public safety issues.

On April 21, 2009, upon vetoing numerous appropriations bills passed by our duly-elected Legislature, Governor C.L. “Butch Otter wrote:

"I have no problem with these bills. At some point they will merit positive consideration. However, consistent with my desire to provide you with the time to substantively address our need for an ongoing source of transportation revenue, I am vetoing these bills today and will continue vetoing appropriations bills until an adequate transportation bill is approved by the Legislature and delivered for my consideration.

I still do not intend to call a special session of the Legislature because I am not going to let this session end until this legitimate and proper role of government is addressed in the manner it deserves.

The Idaho Legislature cannot adjourn and go home until they have a balanced budget. By vetoing appropriations bills the governor was able to hold the Legislature hostage at a cost to taxpayers of $30,000 a day, and all in the name of raising taxes. How will you be better off with higher taxes?

States’ Rights
There are political candidates advocating that we take up arms to fight the federal government. I disagree. We’ve already fought one Civil War.

There are, however, a number of issues on which the state must step up its resistance to federal involvement. These include:

• Health care
• Education (No Child Left Behind)
• Lands
• Water rights
• Wolves

It is interesting to note that former Republican Congressman Helen Chenoweth-Hage and her husband fought the federal government over water rights. It took them about six years, but in the end, they did prevail. The State of Idaho can and will prevail, as well, if we work with our federal Senators and Congressmen, keep level heads and approach these issues from a constitutional and factual basis.

Thus far, three of my children have gone all the way through the K – 12 public education system in Idaho, and are now all attending institutions of higher learning. My three youngest children currently attend school within the Meridian School District. When I’ve had a problem with what was going on with my children’s education, I have gotten involved. That is my job, as a parent.

There are multiple problems to be addressed:

• “No Child Left Behind is failing us
• The education funding formula in Idaho creates some unreasonable inequities, with districts receiving from less than $3000 to over $40,000 from the state, per pupil.
• We have a number of school districts in the state with fewer than 100 students in them.
• Less than half of the public school employees are classroom teachers.
• Four-year universities offer remedial (high-school level) courses and have a high first-year dropout rate.

The Legislature can avoid unnecessary cuts to public education by facilitating the consolidation of school district administrations and by implementing a joint purchasing process to take advantage of the economies of scale. In addition, state revenue can be maximized, without any tax increases, by collecting the unpaid taxes and other payables already due the state.

There are ways in which to make limited dollars go further in our public education system. For example, we need to raise the standards for students to gain entry into our state’s four-year university program. There is no place for remedial classes there, either. Higher standards will lead to smaller incoming classes and a significantly lower drop-out rate. For those students who need to hone their skills for a year or two before attending a four-year college, there is now a healthy community-college system accessible in most of the state.

We also need to carefully examine the education success stories. Sadly, math teacher Jaime Escalante – made famous in the movie “Stand and Deliver – recently passed away but serves to remind us that exceptional educators make a difference in their students’ lives.

In addition, we need to support parents who choose to home school their children, allow a greater number of charter schools, and encourage innovative educational programs that make better use of limited resources such as voluntary “year-round schedules that allow 25 percent more students to use any given school facility. Distance learning programs, like Idaho Virtual Academy, show a lot of promise and provide parents with alternatives, as well.

The United States government has failed us with regard to immigration. It is estimated that there are 12 million undocumented people in our country. If the federal government would properly impose the laws that are already on the books, we would not have a problem. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

The controversial law passed in Arizona that is aimed at identifying, prosecuting and deporting people who are in our country illegally has been in the news. We have good reason to be concerned about who is coming here across our border with Mexico. WSBTV in Atlanta recently did an excellent two-part investigative piece about who is ending up in the United States, including people from nations that sponsor terror such as Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan and Yemen: http://www.wsbtv.com/video/23438021/index.html and http://www.wsbtv.com/video/23438712/index.html

According to U.S. Census data, about 42 percent of the people in Arizona are non-white, so the chance of their new immigration law resulting in racial profiling is slim. In Idaho, also according to U.S. Census data, only about 15 percent of the population is non-white, so there seems to be a greater risk of racial profiling. Therefore, I would support passage of a law similar to the one in Arizona; however, it might need to be tweaked to fit our circumstances in Idaho to avoid even the appearance of racial profiling. It also might behoove the federal government to stop asking us to report our race, as the collection of these data smack of racial profiling, as well.

As the proud mother of six children, who are very much wanted and loved, I have a high regard for the value of life and am therefore opposed to abortion. As such, I have volunteered for the Salvation Army’s Booth Family Care Center for pregnant and parenting teens, including serving a term as Advisory Council Chair. I only gave up my involvement there when my youngest daughter, who has Williams syndrome, was born and my attention was directed toward her instead. Now that Angelina is past many of the challenges we faced with her in her first few years, I will again be dedicating time to the Booth home.

Taxpayer dollars should not be used to pay for abortions.

The issue of wolves in Idaho is sometimes misunderstood. The wolves the federal government claims to have “reintroduced, Canadian Grey Wolves, are not native to Idaho. The wolves that are native to Idaho are Timber Wolves. These animals weigh about 125 pounds. Canadian Grey Wolves are another 75 pounds heavier and stand six inches higher. They also kill for sport, which is impacting both Idaho wildlife and livestock alike.

We need to take a proactive approach and address this issue before someone is killed by these vicious animals. We can fight the federal government over this and other issues, by arming ourselves with knowledge, such as the facts on native and non-native wolves in Idaho and the destruction they cause.

Check back here for issue updates.