March Madness in Idaho: Time to Be Vigilant!

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The Idaho Legislature has it’s own version of March Madness. The last few days of March are some of the longest, craziest, and most expensive days of the session. In the past few years we have seen Obamacare adopted by Idaho, massive increases in gas taxes and registration fees, and International Law incorporated into Idaho statutes, all introduced in the waning hours of the Legislature.

This year looks no different. We are scheduled to end the session on Friday, March 24th. But, just in the last two days the madness has begun. In the Senate State Affairs committee on Wednesday, S1182 was introduced. It is a bill meant to clarify how parents are exempt from being accused of child neglect if they choose only prayer and spiritual healing to treat their sick or hurt child. The bill leaves some gaping questions about determining exactly what is meant by the terms “medical care,” “likely to result in serious injury,” and “compelling government interest.”

On Thursday afternoon, the Senate Transportation Committee considered two transportation bills. S1188 aimed to meet transportation needs (heightened this year by a harsh winter) by expanding GARVEE bonding (debt), transferring some Idaho State Police money to transportation and making up for it with sales tax revenue, and allowing local governments to do a local option tax for some road funding. The bill failed, but another bill, S1162 which only included the GARVEE bonding component did pass; it is now headed to the full Senate for consideration.

Is it really necessary to BORROW money for roads when we came into this session with an unexpected surge of tax revenues to the tune of $140 million? There has to be a better way.

The true excitement on Thursday afternoon was in the Senate chambers as the Senate considered amendments to H67, the income tax cut bill (lowering rates by 0.2 percentage points). The first amendment failed—it would have reduced the tax cuts to only 0.1 percentage points, and then allowed for a reduction in unemployment taxes on employers. The second amendment offered did pass—it changed the entire bill into the Grocery exemption to sales taxes and a repeal of the grocery credit to income taxes. This is a great opportunity to get at least one small tax cut this year! Let your senator know if you would like to buy groceries without a sales tax on top!!

And those are just a few issues. There is still more to come on education spending, castle doctrine lite, and proposals for communities expecting huge crowds for the August eclipse. March is madness in the Capitol, too!

Idaho Education: More pay, More teachers

By now I’m sure you have read the media reports regarding a brief conversation picked up on my “hot mic” on the House floor. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody that the media got the story wrong. I’m grateful the Standard Journal and to East Idaho News for doing some actual reporting instead of repeating (the link includes the full video). Here is my full response:

The entire conversation (not just the 5 second clip reported by the liberal media) was about paying teachers more—especially in science and math. I support the career ladder and have always voted for higher teacher pay.

All session long, I have been tracking overspending in all areas of the budget all session and pointing out how it could benefit teachers. I have been publicly citing these numbers in each House session. You can see the tracking numbers in the next section below.

During a break in the session, at my desk, I had a discussion with my good colleague, Rep. DeMourdant. She asked about my numbers tracking and how we could increase teacher pay or hire more teachers. Which would I prefer? Good question. My answer was unequivocally “pay teachers more.”

The conversation was about paying teachers MORE. We lose teachers to other states who pay teachers more. I mentioned how superintendents across the state tell me about the difficulties in getting applicants for teacher positions (especially in science and math). By paying teachers more we could attract and retain our good Idaho teachers. Differentiated pay might be one answer to meeting such difficulties.

I chatted about how my son’s debate teacher, Mr. Benson, does so many wonderful things for his debate team. He puts in 16-17 weekends of his own time where he is with the team for the entire Friday and Saturday at tournaments. I have seen him in action when I have gone and judged some debates this past month. He should get extra pay for the wonderful work he does. He is a gem!

It was a positive conversation and the entire conversation was about paying teachers MORE.

Now that I’ve had a chance to actually go back and listen (my mic was on), in the middle of the conversation, I misspoke part of one word “over” instead of “under.” I had talked earlier about how we have been overspending in other areas of the budget. When talking about teacher pay, I meant to say teachers are underpaid. But for some reason—everyone does this—I said one wrong word in one sentence of our discussion. From the context of the conversation it is obvious I meant to say underpaid, but the media is not interested in allowing for an innocent misspeak. They think they have a “gotcha” moment and they’re running with it.

That’s the fair and accurate account. I have always been on the side of paying teachers more. I am on record saying so on a daily basis on the House floor. And, my voting record backs it up.

Overspending and Opportunity Cost

I have been trying to be extra-vigilant on watching the spending items this session. When I see a spending line-item which could be better spent on, say, teacher salaries (pay is important to attract and retain good teachers in Idaho--especially in math and the sciences), I put them into my “overspending tracker.”

It’s surprising how much could be saved if we chose to be more thrifty with taxpayer dollars. I also calculate how much we could have been added to the paycheck of each of Idaho’s 15,985 teachers with that spending, and/or how many new teachers we could have hired with that spending. In economics, we call this “opportunity cost.”

This far into the session (and the more than 60 annual spending bills are now coming through the House), I’ve identified the following:

Number of bills with overspending items: 38

Amount of dollars of overspending: $19,193,410

How much each teacher’s salary could increase: $1,200.71 per yr.

How many new teachers could be hired: 511

Growing Freedom — Get Involved!

You and your friends can contact your legislators to make your views known by emailing or calling them. To find your representatives’ and senators’ contact information you can click here for representatives, and here for senators.

Rep. Ronald Nate, Dist. 34. Committees: Revenue and Taxation, Judiciary, Rules, and Administration, and Environment, Energy, and Technology.

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