After its Over

I am home in front of the wood stove with the dog snoring and Carol doing her taxes. The pundits are assessing the session while I work to dig myself our from under mountains of unopened envelopes and unsorted e-mail.

All across Idaho legislators are taking off their badges and putting on sweat pants and finding home again. We visited Rep. Donna Pence in Gooding this morning. She had on her tree digging clothes, no lipstick. Human again. I had on my green corduroy jacket and a t-shirt. I’ll be happy not to see my black tights or a skirt for a few weeks. I’m sure I won’t get my way on that one.

But there is much to do after the session ends. I’ve taken a day to breathe and clean and sort and poke
around in the yard. I’ll go to debates and forums and meetings now.
Soon I’ll look forward to planting tomatoes and getting ready for the
campaigns ahead.

But I’m lucky, I’ve not been away from home and family for months like most my colleagues. Some have children they have left at home, young ones. Ken Andrus, Brent Crane, Steve Kren, and Branden Durst. Some are teachers and go back to work. Others take up small businesses that have sat still and dead, others return to larger firms where secretaries and staff filled the gaps. Many go home to ready for planting, lambing, burning ditches and moving cattle. As we grow more urban, we lose that feel of seasonal change. I remember traveling between teaching and my work for the forest service many years back.

But the legislative session distorts the seasons a bit. It is like a time warp where we miss winter altogether. We go in in the cold and dark and gray and come out with the lawn mowers blaring and now here the grass is coming up green and wild.

Democratic Conclusions

I adapted the following
based on a piece by House Democratic Assistant Minority Leader, George
Sayler, I added several points as did many of the 19 members of the
Democratic Caucus of the
House of Representatives.

Democrats came to the Capitol ready to make progress on issues of
importance to the people of Idaho. We listened to the Governor’s state
of the state speech, set our own budget priorities and gave our own
response in which we said we agreed with many of the goals set by the
Governor, not necessarily the means toward them.

 
Sadly this
session shows that Republican legislative leaders are out of touch on issues of
importance to Idahoans. 

They ignored the advice of several statewide coalitions and
working groups. They ignored "Moving Idaho Forward" which came offering
public transit solutions. They stood in the way of the Farm, Ranch, and
Forest Preservation working group which came ready to save Idaho lands
from development. They set aside the principles developed by the
legislative interim committee on tax exemptions.

  • They chose this year to fly on a private airplane to a fund raising
    dinner, fly back to Boise, and the next day vote to pass a bill
    that is bad for working people but favorable to the owner of the airplane.
  • This year again they catered to special interests at the
    expense of ordinary Idahoans, nearly shifting over $100 million dollars
    in big industry taxes onto the sales tax which families pay.
  • They have opposed reforms that would clean up politics at the state
    level including ethics legislation that would end lobbyists’ revolving door to politics.

As the majority party since 1990,
Republicans chair every legislative committee in both houses. This year
when we challenged Republican leadership to hold hearings and discuss
issues; when we called for real cooperation and consideration of
sound solutions, they refused.

  • We worked to start removal of the sales tax on food at the register; Republican leaders opposed it.
  • We crafted legislation to limit how much health insurance companies
    could raise premiums on Idaho families and small businesses
    ;
    Republicans refused to hear the bill.
  • We supported conservation easements to protect Idaho’s vanishing working farms and forests; Republicans killed that bill too.
  • We supported systematically reviewing special interest tax exemptions; Republicans would not consider it.
  • We supported affordable housing legislation; Republicans would not consider it.
  • We
    proposed residential sales price disclosure to put more accountability
    into how we set property taxes; House Republicans would not hold a
    hearing.
  • We wanted to provide Idaho’s teachers with the needed level of pay
    increases
    ; The Governor’s plan for education penalized Idaho’s teachers
    and included disastrous proposals like Tom Luna’s iSTARS. 
  • We supported creating treatment focused alternatives to mandatory
    minimum sentences
    to make communities safer and prisons less costly and
    crowded; Republican committee chairs would not give this bill a
    hearing.
  • We supported adequate and reasonable state employee pay increases;
    Republicans ignored the needs of state employees and their families and
    took a hatchet to retirement benefits.
  • We supported protecting children in child care by requiring
    criminal background checks on child care providers
    ; Republicans refused
    to hold a hearing on this bill.
  • We supported early childhood education programs to improve quality of life
    and success for Idaho’s kids; Republicans opposed this effort to
    strengthen families and improve education.
  • We supported measures to expand children’s health insurance;
    Republicans opposed providing 6000 children in need with essential
    medical care.
  • We led bipartisan efforts for human rights, successfully
    introducing fair employment policies for gays and lesbians and
    strategies for divesting state funds from companies supporting genocide
    in Darfur
    ; Key Republican leaders blocked consideration of
    these measures in Senate.
  • We supported building energy efficient schools and public buildings
    to save money, energy and prevent climate change. We encouraged the use
    of global climate change studies to protect Idahoans health and our
    precious resources. Senate Republican Leadership killed or watered down
    these measures one after another.
  • We supported open, deliberative and inclusive politics and decision
    making
    ; Republicans at the end of the session proposed a 93 page bill
    on election consolidation and another on closing Idaho primaries
    without including input from voters or dialog with the county clerks. 
  • We supported local option sales taxes to allow local people to vote
    to fund urgent local needs including public transit and roads
    ;
    Republicans derailed the process and stood in the way with a
    restrictive and unnecessary constitutional amendment.
  • We proposed providing a $50,000 exemption to the personal property
    tax to help small business
    ; until their special interest version of the
    bill nearly died, House Republican Leaders would not consider our proposal.
  • We supported lowering property taxes by making growth pay for
    itself
    and by allowing local governments to more easily charge impact
    fees on new development; Republicans would not even consider the bill.

The bottom line is, Democrats worked hard this session to provide
solutions and make progress on issues of importance to ordinary
Idahoans. We continually seek to protect the interests of our citizens,
and have stood up to the special interests who seek to warp the state’s
democratic processes. We are committed to standing up for Idaho’s
middle class and small businesses, preserving Idahos quality of life
and access to public lands
. We support transparency and ethics in
government.   

The Republican Majority has been an obstacle to
progress on those same issues. They have pursued their own ideological
goals and partnered with special interests to rob Idahoans of the kind
of representation they deserve. Under current Republican leadership and
with government so very unbalanced, the changes that Idahoans care
about will never be accomplished
.

However, we will not give up. We will not stop laboring to make sure your voice is heard.

With
your help, we will continue to make progress issue by issue. And, with
your help, we will make progress this year by electing more Democrats
to the legislature. Our goal in 2008 is to bring democracy, balance and
better policy to the Idaho Legislature by winning more seats in both
the House and the Senate. No matter where in Idaho you live, you can
help us
http://www.idaho-democrats.org/

Saying Goodbye

I’m wearing the mixed perfume and cologne of many colleagues. I’ve found those I wanted to give a big hug to. Some escaped before I got to say good bye. Some when you say good bye you wonder with the hard races ahead will they be back. We all wonder. With the hours everyone puts in and what many give up in family and marriage and what might have been retirement I know the year will be heart wrenching for some. I’ll write more later. Now I’m going home.

Getting Silly

As we prepare to adjourn Sine Die as we call it… things are getting silly. People are playing competing country music songs on their computers, the speaker has a baseball he’s joking about throwing to the ceiling and Bill Killen has passed out some little plastic parachuters for all of us upstairs to throw from the balcony to those below.

We laid several issues to rest today and I’m in a good mood. I’ve done my mourning for the year so today I’m amazed at where we are after all this toil.

Business personal property tax is now a small-business-focused $100,000 exemption which costs about $17 million, rather than an unlimited exemption that would help mostly big industry. This exemption looks a lot like the $50,000 exemption Democrats crafted and proposed both this year and last. We have reason to be proud.

This afternoon the state retiree benefit plan, restricting what the state will pay for health benefits was killed by the State Affairs Committee. This issue should be taken up with state employees and retirees involved in the process and more information provided so they are informed and not left in fear of what complex legislation will mean to their lives. It will be a sad day when we as a legislature choose leave state employees to the whims of private plans and rising premiums, with less healthcare security rather than more.

Of the two pieces of legislation dealing with local option sales taxes, sadly H688, the legislation which I’d hoped would be amended to give authority to local voters to fund public transportation and other needs, was killed by the senate and never revived. Fortunately, HJR4, the constitutional amendment restricting the use of local option taxes was laid to rest by the Senate this afternoon. The delay the amendment caused communities like ours here in the Treasure Valley is inexcusable. Each year more people grow frustrated waiting in traffic. They have every right to be angry with this legislative majority which did nothing but stand in the way and propose obstacles to the local authority which local people have waited far too long for.

Agreeing to Disagree

Agreeing to Disagree


We use the term "holding harmless" to talk about making changes of law have as little adverse impact as possible on those we do not intend harm. It is an attempt to minimize collateral damage.

So interesting watching Reps Clark and Lake sit with Rep Killen and Sens Hill, Langhorst, and Stegner trying to pick apart the Senate personal property tax bill. The more that Senator Hill talks, the more clear it becomes that Senate has come back with an elegant, well crafted piece of compromise legislation. It looks much like Bill Killen’s proposed draft from earlier this year.

A conference committee is an odd creature that is born out of Mason’s rules and legislative history. It has unusual characteristics. The three house members vote and the majority within that three is counted separately from the three Senate members vote. One can imagine the house and senate being split again as Clark & Lake try to knock holes in this bill to give cover for killing what is now a simple $75,000 exemption from personal property tax for every business in the state. It now is kind of like the homeowners exemption except that the $15 million this now costs will be paid by the sales tax rather than by other property tax payers.

The question is then since small business benefits from a greater share of this version of the bill and is the class of business most likely to invest the benefit back in the community, wages and health benefits and thus the economy, is this then wise and equitable tax policy. I’d say yes. Far more so than the huge $120 million tax shift IACI almost forced through.

What is yet to be seen is whether IACI still has any hand on the reigns. From Alex LaBeau’s face there at the other end of the row from me, I suspect not. Unlike some Lobbyists in here, he works hard for a client that the small business focused House might love to hate. He and Rep. Clark turned a big industry dream bill into a bill about tracking staplers and tape and about mom and pop and the lady selling hot dogs from a cart in front of the statehouse. You’ve got to give them an A for effort and strategy.

Empty Baskets

Hunger

I know it is as much a message for us to go home as is Betsy Russel’s huge gold tie, but all the food in this place is gone. This is no plea for pity, just a phenomenon producing some interesting results. Low blood sugar is only aggravating the testiness of this place just now as tough votes threaten to hit the floor. Rep Jaquet suggested some gestures she would use if one more person said that a committee vote was some how more democratic than a floor vote.

As our caucus was starting (in the lounge because at first our caucus room was locked) and the press filed in, Lenore Barrett came in looking to get to the refrigerator. It, like the snack table and bowls and baskets normally holding granola bars, was undoubtedly empty. She stared around the room, with all the democrats stacked on couches and chairs, and commented that if she saw a nice leg she might take a bite.

Later I ran down and got her some licorice and made her a few legs she could actually eat. It is April fools day and some say we can not adjourn on April fools day. I’m ready. We’ve passed the substance abuse funds the Governor axed and those with the strings in their hands stand ready to kill or destroy everything good that remains, so let’s go home. Now.

Competing Motions

Competing Motions

Minority Leadership approaches the Speaker’s desk to debate whether a motion by the Minority will be allowed. The motion was not allowed on a party line vote of 13 to 37. 20 members were missing since House State Affairs Committee was in meetings.

The Speaker moved the bill to the Rev & Tax Committee where we voted 6 to 10 to not concur with the Senate amendments and instead go into a conference committee. Sadly, the conference committee gives IACI cover to kill the bill or amend it to start the elimination of the whole $120 million personal property tax. The House will vote on the move to send the bill to the joint house and senate conference committee when we re-convene at 1:15 PM.

Challenging the Speaker

If you have one member of leadership on your side, you have half a prayer. Just now, our Minority Leader,  Rep. Jaquet made sudden a motion to concur with Senate Amendments to H599 and create a $75,000 exemption to the business personal property tax. We fly by a little white spiral bound book of rules. What we can do is limited by that. This was one option in rule 37. The Speaker we believe was going to move the bill to the Rev & Tax Committee where we believed we would have a tie vote on any motion to concur or not concur with the Senate version of the bill. So we thought maybe the floor was the better place to have this fight. Last week, by 5 votes, the House sent the full $120 million exemption to the Senate. We feel we have enough people who would prefer this small business version of the bill to get a floor vote to pass it. Some want to kill the bill, others want to amend it for a third time, which would be very very risky, even in a conference committee of both the House and Senate. We shall see how this unfolds.

The Speaker claims Rep Jaquet’s motion is out of order and is calling her motion a "challenge to the Speaker" with brings emotional and partisan weight to this debate. The vote we take now will not be so much then on policy and on small businesses or taxes, but on party allegiance. I think you can predict the out come. Things are flying: rule books, emotions, lobbyists, leaders, whispers.

Choosing a Lobbyist

Thinking about where we are today on an issue I care about almost as much as any other, I offer a few things to consider when choosing a lobbyist for your legislation:

1) Don’t choose a lobbyist whose career has been dedicated to a cause a vast majority of legislators hated.
2) Make sure your lobbyist does not believe that the legislature is like the real world in that people forgive mistakes and that good intentions count for something.
3) You might want to be cautious choosing a well known and powerful lobbyist whose bread and butter rests on relationships with members of leadership who are deadly opposed to your issue. If you think this lobbyist is going to draw the line and cut off negotiations or work around their friends, forget it.
4) Don’t ever think that an unknown face is a bad thing. The friendly nature in us gets the best of us and we usually are intrigued by someone new. Let’s just say this too: no history, no baggage.
5) Consider it imporatant that your lobbyist sees communication and respect as the most important responsibility they have.
6) And finally, you might consider seeing what reaction your lobbyist has to any likely legislative allies you already have on the issue. While they might be the smoothest talker in town, will they really be willing to work with everyone or will they anger those who care about the cause so that nothing gets done.