Advice for Idaho

Advice for Idaho from an Idaho Democrat:

“What I stand for is what I stand on.”  Wendell Berry

If you love where you live, stay put. Get to know your neighbors, your countryside, the history and the institutions. Ask yourself what it is you love, and then find out what your neighbors love; surely you have a lot in common besides your zip code.

You may feel marginalized; indeed you may experience prejudice. There is good evidence that people feel more strongly now about party affiliation than they do about race. It seems now people are more nervous about a family member marrying into the other political affiliation than across a racial divide.

Now relax, don’t hide your face or use a different drinking fountain. Understand we are all in this together, no matter the insults and labels that come too easily to mind. For the community you love and our state to prosper, we all will need to participate. A good conversation is in order. Maybe you could start with what exactly your vision for prosperity means. Listen to your neighbor’s vision. These conversations require patience, respect and time. I hope you have all three, because nowadays it seems they might be in short supply. Show your neighbor you have some to spare.

Know you may be in a Facebook or CNN or NPR or Fox News bubble. The slant of those we listen to can make us think we are all knowing; disabuse yourself of that arrogance. Such humility can be hard when one feels marginalized, and it can be even harder when you feel affirmed. We all are on shaky ground.

Don’t let outrage be the slogan on your t-shirt, even if that’s what you see on your neighbor’s ball cap in the grocery aisle. Be yourself; a citizen with all our rights and responsibilities. And expect  your fellow citizens to be too. Let them know respectfully when they fall short, but never shirk your duty either.

Know your community. There may come a time when your love of community is deeply questioned and my original advice to stay put seems questionable. But remember that there’s something here you love, and your neighbors must also. It is not unreasonable to be in a place where there is conflict. Lend your voice and your effort to this conflict so that a vision for prosperity can emerge. We need a shared vision.

Don’t whine and don’t bitch. Get to work. Is there a cemetery district that needs a commissioner? Could you make your city council stronger? Is your church serving your community, or just the parishioners? Do you have faith in the institutions that make your community one you love, and if not, what can you offer to restore that faith? We need work.

Finally, I ask you to question party affiliation; not give it up, but make sure of the value. Does this branding we do serve us, and the communities we love? It can be such a tribal marker that bears no use for the vision we have for prosperity. If we weren’t looking through the colored lenses of the glasses we have put on, would the world, our neighbors, their vision for the future and ours look clearer? Don’t be afraid to take those tinting lenses off and see people, neighbors, and institutions in the clear light of day. We are all flawed. We all need work. Let’s get to it.

 

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Idaho Economic Development; The Back Story

Senator Keough is right, small towns and rural counties in Idaho need help. Dialing in the details of the Tax Reimbursement Incentive (TRI) to suit smaller marketplaces is an appropriate move. This graph of labor force in the North Central region of Idaho gives you a sense of what rural communities face.

 

 

There are seven regions in Idaho; subtract South West (Boise) and then you can multiply this effect by six.

But I want to tell you the history of this legislation, so maybe you can understand why Idaho government is not functioning “at the speed of business” as former Idaho Director of Commerce, Jeff Sayer used to say was his goal.

The TRI started as a brainchild of Roy Lacey (D Pocatello) and Donna Pence (D Gooding)when they were in the Idaho House. The idea was to give companies who come to Idaho and start a business that pays more than the average salary a tax incentive that they could collect later if their promised development pans out. He initially proposed it to promote value added jobs in agriculture in 2012 and 2013. It got good reception from The Department of Commerce, the Governor’s office and some committee members, but the House Majority Leader Mike Moyle and Wayne Hoffman came out against it as “picking winners and losers”. It got killed. Still, Roy worked all summer of 2013 with Sayer and rewrote the idea to include all businesses, based on a Utah model already in place.  But Donna and Roy knew the slant of the field he was playing on.

So Sayer took the bill, with the Democrats blessing, to Moyle for the 2014 session and he agreed to sponsor. And it passed! Wayne Hoffman still hates it. But this shows that the Idaho Capitol is not quite the “arena of ideas” Speaker Bedke wants it to be. It seems that whose idea it is, or maybe the party affiliation of the person with the idea has influence. Shame on us that our representatives are not there to do the peoples work, but instead find party affiliation as a prejudice to the common good. It may be no accident that both Donna and Roy retired from the legislature this last year.  I question whether the partisan nature of the legislature serves Idaho.

Is this reflected in small towns? I have heard many constituents in these close communities express reluctance to acknowledge minority party affiliation. I can’t blame them. I’ve lived in this culture. And I’ve also seen minority party members dismiss any idea coming from the other side. Such stances almost seem tribal. I hope we don’t start hacking each other’s arms off. It’s bad enough that we kill good ideas.

 

 

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Pay the Piper

excuses

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (IDHW) will propose a $11M expenditure to the legislature this session. The goal is to provide mental health and drug abuse services to recently released convicts who are back in the community. The idea is that such an investment ($1500/year) might keep some offenders from returning to prison ($30,000/year). About a third of Idaho offenders released to the community return to prison within three years.

This  seems like a good investment in our community. I have little faith the legislature will see it as such. And here’s why. This cost to the Idaho taxpayer would be nothing if the legislature had considered expanding Medicaid eligibility. And such a consideration is toxic for the legislature, even though most Idaho residents consider it reasonable.

The cost benefit analysis of Medicaid eligibility expansion under the Affordable Care Act was looked at carefully four years ago by a work group requested by Governor Otter.  The analysis showed that enrolling the uninsured would save Idaho taxpayers but did not include any savings for this group of recently incarcerated. They found such calculations too difficult. But with prompts from the Justice Reinvestment Oversight Committee and the Judicial Council, the IDHW looked at this as a source of savings to Idaho taxpayers and brings this recommendation. But they also brought PCAP last year (an expensive compromise) when the legislature had refused to consider eligibility expansion. Both are attempts to get the legislature to solve the problem of access to health care to prevent expensive costs. And I predict the new proposal will die the simple death (as PCAP did) that the legislature wishes would come to all the uninsured, if only such deaths were as cheap as our current ignorance. But the piper will demand payment.

The legislature (and the Freedom Foundation) will see the IDHW proposal as a back door for Medicaid Expansion, which should have been done four years ago and now is dead thanks to Trump and Ryan. Idaho citizens have lost $2B in support thanks to our legislature and lack of leadership on any level. So is the ACA dead? What would be their solution? We have engaged the piper; people expect health insurance. Can Trump and Ryan roll that back? Is that their plan? I haven’t caught the tweet.

I am thankful IDHW has made such a proposal. Should the legislature have the courage to burden Idaho taxpayers with such a program, now, at least we can count the dollars we are spending, so we can know how much we could have saved.

This is a tough issue. Providing appropriate care and paying for it are responsible choices we should all be willing to consider. I wish our leaders had the courage.

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Idaho Economic Outlook, from the backseat

As EORAC (The Economic Outlook and Revenue Assessment Joint legislative Committee) starts it’s meeting for this year, I am reminded of a comment by a fellow member a few years back. EORAC is tasked with recommending a revenue projection to JFAC so a budget can be set for the coming year. Idaho’s Constitution, like many states, mandates that government may spend no more each year than it takes in. Idaho tax revenue is of course mainly dependent on sales tax and income tax. Property taxes (also about a third of the Idaho tax burden) mainly go to local governments. Income and consumer activity is quite dependent on the economic climate, so the committee listens to many experts discuss their weather predictions for the coming year. When we heard from Idaho Department of Labor in 2014, House Speaker Scott Bedke seemed surprised by Idaho low wages. At that time Idaho had the highest percent of minimum wage earners (now we are 49th), and the lowest average wage in the country (still 50th). The Speaker asked that the numbers be repeated to the legislators for emphasis and suggested we consider our policy actions to address this. He’s right; our state leaders should understand this predicament.

But it’s not news. This has been a long time coming.

This paper provides a good analysis of each sector. Interestingly, when I have had this discussion with Republicans who will talk to me about this, they point to 1980’s as when environmental pressures hurt logging and mining. But those Idaho jobs actually pay above the national average and have for the last 30 years. Health care workers have driven this decline the most; their pay has lagged and the sector has grown.

So why hasn’t the market solved this for us? You’d think businesses would want to come to a place where the workers get paid less, then as demand for workers increases, the pay would also. Idaho has had some ups and downs, but overall the 30 year trend is swirling the drain. State Impact Idaho tried to get people’s attention about this issue 4 years ago. They did a great job, but it sure didn’t fire up any voter outrage.

The consequences we see of this trend are that bright young folks are leaving the state for better employment opportunities elsewhere and older, gray haired, fixed income folks are coming in to take advantage of the low pay. Such a demographic change will have a long influence on the economy, and the politics.

A further consequence, since we started talking about revenue, is that since people make less, the state collects less revenue to pay for schools and other services. If incomes rose, we could actually lower the tax rate and still get enough revenue to do the work the state should be doing.

So what should policy makers do? First, I would wonder if any see this as a problem. My sense was that Speaker Bedke did, but I sure didn’t hear others join him. When I can get Republicans to talk about this they usually deflect the low wages to a comparably low cost of living in Idaho. But they are wrong again. Idaho’s cost of living is about 30th nationally, while wages are 50th.

I have heard one lawmaker dismiss low wages as a problem. He also considered the goal of economic growth, especially for rural areas a mistake. “People like things the way they are; otherwise they wouldn’t be livin’ here. Why try to change things?”

As I sit in the distant back seat and watch EORAC hear testimony about Idaho’s economic forecast, I wonder who’s speaking up for the workers in Idaho? Do they have a seat on this bus?

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Legislators Prayer for the Press

May God give you the wisdom
To leave out my stumbling words
And just print the upright phrases
That may inspire.

Please God, guide the photographer
Away from my bald spot and
Instead let the camera capture
My pure and resolute heart.

God give me the grace to know
The slant of the liberal or
Right wing media but still
Keep my solid stance.

Even more God, let me not
Take pride in my name in a title
Or picture above the fold
Nor in a thousand “likes”.

God, help me know my speech
Is for this body, my colleagues
Not pandering to the few I know
Attending to the live feed.

16 May 2016

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Prayer for Parliamentary Procedure

The procedures of the body are governed by the rules of the body (approved by 2/3rds of the body), and when they are unclear, Mason’s Manual. But things go along and most legislators learn from their mistakes, or when something happens that seems out of place. I can remember hearing the Majority Leader ask for the Senate to go “at ease”  hundreds of times, but when I asked for such in my final senate year, I forgot to include in the request that unanimous consent be granted. After, he politely underlined a part of Rule 43: Senate at Ease. — (B) The Senate may be called “at ease” only with consent of the Senate. Rules, words matter.

Please God, forgive my ignorance
Of Senate Rules and Masons Manual
And know I will study and learn
As I should, oh Lord.

Dear God
Do not let my ignorance harm
The work I do for justice
Nor my constituents or
The state I serve.

Dear God
Let the overriding purpose
Be greater than the rules
We all should know and work with
But so often fall short.

Dear God
We know the rules are meant
To preserve my voice, not stifle
Honest meaningful discourse
And should be used as such.

Dear God
Simple rules serve simple goals
And ours here should be simple
Though You know and I know
Many times it is not so.

18 June 2016

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Prayer for Service

Dear God,
Do I assume all I represent live like me?
Please disabuse me my assumption.

Dear God,
Do I believe my beliefs are common?
Please relieve me of my hubris.

Dear God,
Do I carry my righteousness above others?
Then humble me with yours.

Dear God,
Do I know the suffering of my people?
If not, then afflict me.

Dear God,
Have I taken my position for advantage?
If so, please smite me.

Dear God,
Let me know if there is any good I can do.
For to serve the people I must know You.

22 March 2016

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Senate Prayer for the Roll Call Vote

All votes in the Senate are by roll call in alphabetical order. A senator may pass on the first call but must respond by the second. No senator may leave the chamber once a roll call has been started.
Dear God,
Let not the softness of my “Aye”
Nor the harshness of my “Nay”
Hide the shades of gray
I see in a
Binary vote.

Dear God,
Let my resolve not soften
As I listen to debate
But keep me aware
Of my place in space
And time.

Dear God,
Let not the surprising vote
In the early alphabet
Shudder my sense of truth.
Decision is mine alone
For all.

Dear God,
Let me not take comfort
As the count piles high
The side I am on
Or the folly that my vote
Has no meaning.

Dear God,
The roll is the truth telling we
So often avoid; done too often
We may find ease with
The act of judgement
And lose compassion.

20 Feb 2016

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Prayer before Town Hall Meetings

Dear God,
Let me not disparage my opponents
For their position deserves the same respect as mine.

Dear God,
Let me listen to all, those with praise or condemnation
For all voices must be heard.

Dear God,
Let me present my position with justice in my heart
And goodwill to all, so we can all feel a part of this
More perfect Union.

Dear God,
Let me not fear anger or criticism
But instead know peace as the attack comes
And the voters will decide.

Dear God,
Let me be the vessel of the people- all the people
For thy will be done, not mine, not the few,
But the many.

Dear God,
Let me know that the power of representation comes not
From the ability to demonstrate, but the willingness to accept.

Dear God,
Give me the strength and joy to share this great burden
With all those who give it to me to bear.

19 March 2016

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Prayer before the Difficult Vote

It is not widely known that most votes in the Idaho Senate are unanimous, though I had a few 34-1 where I was the one. But the vote total is not what makes a vote difficult, rather the issue can be seen from both sides, or a bill can be constructed with some important action, but some undesired aspect. 

Dear God,
Let not the passion I have, nor the passion of those around me
Sway me from my decision to reflect justice.

Dear God,
Let not the narrow position I defend reduce
The broad sense of justice it defends.

Dear God,
Let me hear the positions of those who will vote
Against me, and in hearing, understand them.

Dear God,
Let my understanding of others broaden my base
To encompass all, yet leave me grounded.

Dear God,
Let me not fear the anger and approbation of the opposition,
For their approval has no weight on the scale of justice.

Dear God,
Let me welcome and cherish the difficult choice,
Unanimous, nay even majority are not the truth.

Dear God,
Let me know when I’ve done my duty to You;
Either side may win, I wish alone to be true.

21 March 2016

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