There once was an old man living in a little house by himself. His neighbors noticed he was getting thinner and weaker. A little girl came to visit one day and noticed the man had no food in the larder but had three jars on the shelf. One was empty and the other two had money in them. “I could go buy you some food if you want.” She offered.
The starving little man looked at the three jars and grimaced. “I have no money for food.” He picked up the empty jar and held it out to her.
“But there’s money.” She pointed at the others with coins and bills in them.
“Ah,” the weak old man shook his head. “You don’t understand. This jar is for rent and for wood for the stove, and this jar is for seeds for the garden and clothes. I set this system up a while ago when things were tight and it has served me well. I will just go without food for a while until I get some work. That’s the money that goes into the food jar.”
The little girl shook her head and wondered.
Last summer I met with representatives of the Idaho Sheriffs Association. I had to get cleaned up out of my painting clothes to be presentable for the meeting. People forget we are legislators year round, not just when we are in session in Boise. These representatives were up in Moscow for a meeting and they had called me a week before to set up this meeting. They had a bill and they wanted my support.
For two years the state has been enrolled in a Victim Identification Network (VINE service). This is an online data base that allows anybody, victims, law enforcement, corrections or prosecutors to log on and find out the status of an offender. The tool was sold to states as a support for victims since we require that victims are notified if their assailant is to be released. But prosecutors and corrections use it all the time too. So does law enforcement, to see the location and status of offenders. So it’s a valuable tool.
The service has been funded for the last two years by a federal grant which is going away this year. This is what is driving the Sheriffs Association legislation. They want to keep the tool and think they have a way to pay for it. They are suggesting a fee be charged to each convicted felon, that fee will go into a dedicated fund which the Director of the Idaho State Police can disperse to pay for the VINE service.
I told the Sheriffs I could support the legislation, but I didn’t like the dedicated fund strategy. I think it can sometimes get us in a pickle.
But we do this a lot in this state to avoid raising taxes. We try to direct “user fees” to a dedicated fund that pays for a specific part of government. Last year even this strategy didn’t work; the House killed a bill to increase funding for Police Officer Standards Training that tacked another $5 onto each ISP traffic ticket. My reaction to this process got me into a 33-1 pickle on a different bill.
The Alcohol Beverage Control is an enforcement branch of the Idaho State Police charged with making sure alcohol is served and sold and consumed in a legal fashion. ABC has been funded by shrinking general fund money over the years so that now we only have one officer for the whole state with a 2012 general fund budget of$100,000. The bill that was the solution to this dwindling support takes the money from Alcohol licenses and fines ($1.5 million) that previously went into the General fund instead puts it into a dedicated fund that would pay for enforcement.
As the roll call came across the floor, everybody voting “aye” for this logical solution, I reflected on the changes to government we were doing. First, we would be jumping a department from a funding level of $100,000 one year to 15X that the next year. This seemed like bad management to me. Also, we were doing this because we didn’t have the guts to make this decision ourselves; instead we were setting up jars that held the dedicated monies. I passed the first time around on the roll call, but on second call I was the last one and gave the only “nay” vote. I support the Alcohol Beverage Control, but we should have the character to make these decisions as a body, rather than voting to take the decision out of our hands.