Congressional Budget Cuts Decimating Jobs

Nicole 2 smile 1823As a member of the House Budget Committee today voting to oppose a
continuing resolution to keep

from shutting every federal agency and
service down, Rep. Mike Simpson does little to offer solutions to the
current budget stalemate.

As a state lawmaker who has served for four
years balancing Idaho budgets and dealing with fiscal crises, it seems
clear to me that those offering a "cuts only" approach to eliminating
the deficit and passing a budget, have created not only this impasse but
in part also created our nation's continuing economic crisis.

Over the course of the past five years federal budget cuts have
eliminated more than 600,000 American jobs. Congress still pays
unemployment benefits to a great number of these workers. We have to
ask, if job creation is the most critical key to economic recovery, why
has congress not restored these jobs so those families again have full
income to support their community's small businesses, American
manufacturers and our nation's economy?

Like many, I fear Congress these past two years has delayed addressing
real economic issues in the interest of keeping the economy down until
after the November election. Essentially they have played politics with
American lives. This sort of partisanship has decimated jobs, families,
security and the values of cooperation and compassion which made this
country great.

It is time for Congressman Simpson to do the real work of proposing a
budget that takes into account that the problem with our deficit goes
beyond simple government spending and has an equal amount to do with
fighting two wars and refusing to roll back eight years of tax cuts that
have benefited the nation's most wealthy, obviously with no positive
economic affect.

Rep. Simpson has voted more than once in favor of the Ryan Budget which
further decimates jobs while cutting and essentially privatizing social
security and Medicare for future generations of American seniors. Paul
Ryan's budget is no solution to our nation's economic problems and is
not a proposal any thinking policy maker would seriously consider as a
compromise to resolve the current budget impasse.

Yes, it is time for Congress to get to work and to take seriously the
affect that repeated cuts have on the economy. It is time for them to
look all of us in the eye and ensure for once they are not decimating
jobs more quickly than America's private sector can create them.


Senator Nicole LeFavour grew up on a ranch in rural Custer County in Central Idaho. She’s well-known across the state as a hard working legislator, respected advocate and teacher. In her eight years in the Idaho legislature, Senator LeFavour built strong relationships with Democratic and Republican colleagues from across the political spectrum. She earned bi-partisan support on her legislation year after year and has been formally recognized for her leadership by local and national organizations.





Idaho’s Reverse New Deal


Today I sit at home at my living room table, a scarf, hot tea and afternoon sun keeping me from feeling the cold of the house– which we keep in the low 50s except when the wood stove is burning. We are trying right now to avoid buying another cord of wood from our favorite man with an axe. If things felt more hopeful economically we might spring for it. But In this environment, we all have our own ways of being frugal.

Tomorrow, Idaho's economic outlook committee will meet deep in the polished underground wings of the Capitol. We'll make wild guesses as to how much money Idahoans will pay in taxes in the year ahead. I've served all 8 years of my 4 terms in the Idaho legislature on this committee. I have a record of regular closest "guesses" at total tax revenues, a fact that's pleasing in good years but grim in years like 2009 when Idaho's economy began to take its dive.

The number we pick in the next week will set a limit for how much money we have to spend in our next state budget. We all know the number gets good when more people are employed and buy goods and services. Businesses do better then as well. And from it all, the state collects tax revenues which will fund elementary schools and community colleges, parks and drug treatment programs.

Does anyone think this year the Idaho legislature will suddenly re-consider our current strategy of telling every single state agency, "This year, no building anything, no hiring anyone, no replacing broken items or taking on new projects?" No. This three year austerity strategy has cost Idaho over 3000 state jobs. And somehow the Governor still seems proud of it.

When America had its last great depression, rather than paying unemployment for laid off workers, government paid them to do jobs communities needed to have done. Idaho has closed parks, health department offices, scaled back mental health treatment programs, laid off school teachers, increased class sizes in schools colleges and universities and much more.

Yet I'm sad to say I suspect those who loathe government will have their way with our economy again. They will continue the austerity in spite of the fact that it's hurting the very people who cry for lower taxes. Business owners. It all cycles around. Even 2000 jobs would do a lot for the Idaho economy, for builders, retailers, restaurants, and those who sell cord wood or consumer services. If we resisted the urge to deepen tax breaks and exemptions and focused instead on creating the most needed of state jobs, we might just inspire a few business owners to do a bit of hiring themselves. Imagine that.


Letter to Rev & Tax

Anyone who says the state has no options but to cut the budgets for public schools & Meidicad is forgetting a major componenet of a legislature's responsibility to balance the state's budget. Many are asking for an increase in the tobacco tax to fund medicaid. With that in mind I have asked other members of the Senate Education Committe to sign on to the following letter to the only committee in the legislature that can make changes in Idaho's taxes, exemptions, credits and incentives.


March 10, 2011                                                                           DRAFT LETTER


Chairman Lake & Members of the House Revenue & Taxation Committee,

As a committee that has been asked to make recommendations toward building a public education budget for FY2012, we are concerned that the remaining revenue available to the legislature for general fund appropriations leaves Idaho with between $6 million and $31 million less funding for the upcoming budget than we allocated for the FY 2011 budget. That budget saw a reduction of $128 million in state funding.

At the same time, Idaho student populations have increased, creating a need to fund an additional 176 new classrooms or support units at a cost of $27.3 million. Indeed funding the $27.3 million in student growth was the governors recommendation for a total of $1,235,894,000 to public schools. This amount funds all school class rooms at the reduced amount now in use for the FY 2011 budget.

Reductions to education funding on the order of $30 million or more can not occur without consequences. We will again have to consolidate, reduce or eliminate line items for textbooks, transportation, gifted and talented, Limited English Proficiency, Idaho reading initiative, Idaho math initiative, teacher incentive awards, dual credit for early graduates, math and science requirements, college entrance exams, technology, the Idaho Digital Learning Academy and more.

We recognize the reluctance to raise taxes at a time when the economy is challenging families and businesses but we feel that much deeper cuts to education will also be devastating to both.

With that in mind we encourage you to be creative and to consider not only delaying advancements in the size of Idaho’s grocery tax credit but making temporary changes to the structure of the credit to reduce its cost to 2007 levels, recovering $27 million or more to fund growth in student enrollment and assist in meeting the most basic needs of Idaho public schools in the year ahead. We would encourage a return to full funding and full structure of the credit following this fiscal year.

Thank you.




Members of the Senate Education Committee 


How to Tank a State Economy

Easy Steps for Lawmakers.

Many Idahoans wonder when their state will begin to feel the national economic recovery.  They worry as January's Idaho jobless numbers showed the state's economic crisis deepening rather than improving. Yet today the state faces a third year of dire fiscal crisis with budget cuts now exceeding half a billion. Below are real strategies that Idaho's Superintendent of Public Instruction and / or members of the Idaho Legislature is currently contemplating, has proposed or has actually legislated during the 2010 and 2011 sessions.

How to Tank a State Economy: Easy Steps for Lawmakers.

1. Destroy Jobs

A. Lay off as many state employees as possible

• Tom Luna's proposal to eliminate 770 teaching jobs is particularly effective since these are people with benefits that hundreds of families rely on. Losing health insurance effectively makes these families more economically fragile.

• The thousands of "vacant positions" in state government guarantees increases in unemployment and reductions in consumer spending in every sector of the economy. This helps weaken struggling restaurants, shops and producers of consumer goods who rely on local spending.

B. Reduce wages

• Any legislation which offers economic incentives to school districts to lay off more experienced teachers in a budget crunch is highly effective at reducing wages and the quality of education and can half the annual salaries going to 20% of teaching families in any given community in a single budget year. This pulls hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars from local economies, small businesses and consumer spending.

• Low levels of educational attainment, high drop out rates and high cost education all decrease the wage earning, consumer spending and tax paying potential of a state's residents.

• Furloughs while less effective at harming an economy in the short term, when carried out over multiple years can ensure that family savings dwindle, can reduce discretionary spending and may produce out migration and loss of population which is one of the most effective ways to ensure economic decline. The cost of retraining workers who leave government jobs is very effective at increasing net costs to government and accomplishing goal 3 below.

• Eliminate Unions or anything that resembles an organization that would help raise wages, monitor working conditions and the quality or its members work.

C. Be sure that businesses doing contract work for the state go bankrupt

• Using a strategy that claims a state budget is balanced but which relies on not paying bills owed to private businesses is effective politically and in terms of creating an unstable environment for businesses that have agreed to contracts with the state.

• Lowering reimbursement rates not just for a single year but for multiple years to economically squeeze mental health, medical, residential and out patient care providers is an additional effective strategy.

• Long term freezes in state purchasing and construction are ideal strategies for reducing economic activity and driving many segments of the economy into decline.

D. Repel Businesses Seeking to Move into Your State

• Be sure your public schools rank last in the nation for per pupil spending, class size and adequacy of school facilities, course offerings, text books, lab supplies and equipment and materials essential to teaching.

• Create an environment of political extremism to clearly establish that the majority of those who might choose to re-locate businesses or families into the state would feel unwelcome or unrepresented.

• Ensure that premiums charged by insurance carriers are unregulated and that affordable health coverage for small business is unavailable.

• Underfund your regulatory agencies so that getting permits and compliance assistance with basic health, safety and water quality standards takes a long, long time.

• Provide no anti-discrimination job protections for gay people. Technology companies are full of gay employees. Even if a company provides its own job protections, a state needs to project a hostile enough atmosphere to guarantee that other family members seeking jobs or educational opportunities will face discrimination in employment, housing and education in any given town across the state. Companies avoid states like these and high wage workers or business owners will often leave such states in search of safer places to live and do business.

• Ensure state leaders talk as much as possible about large predatory animals decimating wildlife populations and killing domestic animals.

• Even if you can not pass such a law, at least claim you will enact Arizona-style immigration policies so that employees and business owners with darker skin or names like Martinez or Perez will fear eminent racial profiling, detainment or arrest. The out migration of skilled agricultural labor, small business owners and families will assist in achieving objective 1C above.

2. Increase Costs to Families

A. Force Families into Crisis

• Increase class sizes so struggling students fail to get help and those facing depression and suicide are less likely to interact with a teacher who has the time to notice their struggles.

• Reduce access to Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment. Long treatment waiting lists are helpful but eliminating the waiting lists and just failing to provide treatment is also effective and creating crises.

• Reduce services and in-home supports for seniors and people with disabilities. Independence is less costly than dependence. Children without adequate therapeutic interventions will be far more costly to families and state taxpayers.

• Fail to fund or develop a network of low cost health clinics. The fewer options families have, the more likely they are to fail to access preventative care and fall into costly medical crisis and personal bankruptcy.

• Stop funding water quality monitoring, refuse to extensively regulate day care facilities and provide as few counseling services as possible in local schools to ensure an adequate supply of physical and mental health crises statewide.

• Ensure that parole officers and health and welfare case workers carry case loads far exceeding national standards so that minimal supervision and assistance is provided to Idaho individuals and families. The added stress on the case workers themselves can create additional pressures to achieve this goal.

B. Make Education More Expensive

• Eliminate public Kindergarten. Make sure your state's children start out behind the rest of the nation.

• Fail to provide text books, paper, pencils, field trips, lab supplies, transportation and other basic materials in public schools.

• Force parents to pay fees before their children can attend certain public school classes or participate in sports, arts, field trips or other enrichment opportunities. Ensuring poorer children never participate is helpful in ensuring a state continues to have a high poverty rate, a high rate of need for public services, a greater level of of need for crisis medical care and higher need for tax increases.

• Increase class sizes to increase failure rates, decrease social and emotional support for students and increase alienation and drop out rates in upper grades. The cost to families of addressing remediation, tutoring and juvenile corrections court costs and incarceration can effectively weaken the economic stability of tens of thousands of families.

• Require public schools students take on-line classes in order to graduate. Decreased teacher interaction and the lack of support for those who struggle can be highly effective at wasting years of college tuition as students fail classes or need extensive remedial coursework. The impact on families of students with disabilities can be impressive as those with certain learning styles have higher failure rates and are more likely to fall into cycles of dependence later in life should support in these early years be inadequate.

• Fail to fund higher education so that college tuition and fees continue to increase. Making a college degree too expensive for most college graduates also helps achieve goal 1B above.

C. Remain Dependent on Fossil Fuels

• Deny local communities the ability to fund public transportation. In urban areas this guarantees tax dollars are sucked rapidly into perpetual freeway widening projects which produce few jobs but expend state revenues on raw materials. A lack of public transportation also directly increases costs to families who struggle with with car maintenance or gas prices or for those commuters who waste time in traffic during their commute.

• Make sure not to create state level car fuel efficiency standards or electric utility renewable portfolio standards. Being vulnerable to high oil prices or out of state coal generated electricity ensures that business and residential consumers pay high prices and remain vulnerable to world political strife.

D. Increase User Fees for Everything

• After all these are not taxes. Increasing costs to families and businesses through fees works just as well to fund the costly crisis care that is sure to follow a lack of adequate tax payer funded preventative care services.

• Get creative. Fees on prisoners or parents of those in the Juvenile Justice system work really at creating additional stressors for families already in crisis. Asking the general population to help fund government by paying taxes will only give those leaving prisons a chance at economic stability and ruin an opportunity to push them into a lifetime of crime and costly incarceration.

• Ensuring failure of your public school system can help bring on privatization and a stratification of the quality of educational opportunity available to families of differing incomes. User fees in education are not a new concept. They are a bridge to stratification and ensure that some kids will not be able to reach the same levels of academic attainment that the more wealthy do. This perpetuates poverty and assists in achieving goals 1B and 2A above.

3. Keep State Government in Perpetual Fiscal Crisis

A. Turn away federal matching funds or any form of money paid to the federal government by taxpayers in your state.

• Cut medicaid and with each $3 million reduction in state spending, presto $7 million in federal dollars will also be lost.

• Violate federal laws so that your state faces sanctions. Refusing to enact federal health care reform for example may well result in the state losing all federal funds for medicaid –meaning a loss to health providers, businesses and families of nearly a billion in federal dollars.

B. No matter how well the national economy is recovering, predict doom for your own state.

• Keep revenue projections artificially low so you can cut government services across the board again and again.

• Call any revenues over the low projections a "surplus" and use those to fund tax breaks for large corporations and the most wealthy. (Do not restore funding for jobs, purchasing, construction or to fund schools, classrooms, mental health treatment, substance abuse prevention or disability services.)

C. Create Political Strife.

• Make sure the super majority of your Republican party fights with itself so any moderates who happen to be re-elected in any given year will be forced to live in fear of actually voting as moderates and thus will ensure the perpetuation of your disaster.

D. No Matter How Much Things Fall Apart, Don't Raise Taxes.

• Don't think about what Jesus would do. Not raising taxes ensures that all of the above policies seem like necessary if not critical budget cutting measures.

• Raising taxes might ease the conscience in the short term as the morale of state workers improves; schools again begin to meet the needs of more fragile students; seniors, the poor and those with disabilities stop losing their homes, entering institutions and dying of preventable disease or untreated mental and physical aliments. But, in fact, raising taxes creates an expectation within a state population that government can do positive things.

• And we all know that's silly.

 4. Reduce The State's Population

A. Nothing says economic disaster like death and out migration. (See above.)


There come moments when, as busy as I am this year, the absurdity of this place strikes me and I want to say something, I want to sit down and tap my frustration into this computer. Today is the worst of those.

Last night the co-chairs of the budget committee sent out letters to legislators saying that, as hard as the budget cuts last year were;

as hard as looking at intentionally increaseing class sizes to fund on line courses and lap tops has been;

as hard as contemplating cutting services to seniors and people with disabilities, contemplating risking their independence in their homes has been;

as hard as decimating state jobs and family incomes has been — we've go to to cut more. Like 5% more.

That's like another $80 million out of public schools. That's like laying off the 770 teachers Luna is already plotting to eliminate but not even pretending to replace them with on line courses & laptops — just cramming kids into classrooms with no new text books, no new desks, no lab equipment and just saying, good luck, we don't want to look bad to tea party voters who want government to vanish. So good luck.

Already we struggle knowing people are being denied mental health and substance abuse treatment and now we are contemplating making others with disabilities stay in their homes alone without help — without the services some might need to go to work or others might need to avoid ending up back in state hospitals.

And dry-eyed Maxine Bell and Dean Cameron say our only job is to cut more.

Where is the leadeship? Where is the vision that in past years brought our state through crisis without costing lives or risking the future of our children? Where is that sense of patriotism that pulls us together and has great leaders asking us to step forward and share the burden when there's pain to be had?

No, we are in a time of the most unthinkable of low aspirations. We will make children and the most vunerablle pay it all rather than giving up something of ourselves, paying a bit more sales tax or asking our well-to-do neighbors to join us in payng a bit more through the income tax. No, we will just cut, calling the pain we inflict "the new normal" as if there were no other option in the world.


Nicole’s 2010 Legislative Quiz

So you think you followed the 2010 legislative session? Let's see how you do on this Quiz. Answers provided Tuesday May 6th, 5:30 – 8 pm at my End of Session Party at Sun Ray in Hyde Park. (The cool old Lucky 13 garage.) And I'll also post them next week here after the party but you will miss the fun commentary.

In 2010 how many bills were killed on the Senate floor where legislation needs 18 votes to pass?

a. 19
b. 5
c. 2
d. 0

In 2010 how many times did Brad Little have to break a tie on the Senate floor?

a. 21
b. 7
c. 2
d. 0

How many bills were killed on the House Floor when they failed to get 36 yes votes?

a. 47
b. 22
c. 11
d. 4

How much was Idaho's 2011 public school budget cut by in the 2010 Session?

a. $128 million
b. 7.5%
c. the most it had ever been cut in Idaho history
e. All of the above

Which part of the school budget that passed was added by Rep. Fred Wood and other members of the House over the objection of teachers, after the negotiating stakeholders had agreed not to include it.

a. Provisions requiring all schools to add a simple Buddhist prayer at the start of classes each day
b. A prohibition on the teaching of any science in Idaho classrooms
c. A chunk of legislative language rendering the bulk of every teacher's work contract null & void
d. A ban on school nurses because they provide government health care

What school programs were completely not funded and thus eliminated by the legislature?

a. Luna's classroom supply stipend for teachers $4.68 million
b. Gifted & Talented teacher training $1 million statewide
c. None of the major student programs (like ISAT remediation, math initiative, reading initiative or English Language learning) were eliminated. They were just cut so much that schools will just have to bear the burden themselves of deciding which kids to serve or which will go without help.
d. Technology funding $9.1 million for computer replacement, software licenses, maintenance etc..
e. Textbook funding $5.9 million to replace outdated or damaged text books
f. All of the above answers apply

What was the deepest public school budget cut previously made and in what year?

a. 3% in 1914
b. 3% in 2010
c. Many years over the past decade, if you consider inflation and population growth, the increase in Idaho school budgets has been so small that frequently the total budget, when the increase in students and the rising cost of transportation fuels, heat, electricity and insurance is taken into account, the total budget is a cut from the previous year.
d. Idaho school budgets have never previously been cut

Which Idaho agency budget was cut the least?

a. Mike Gwartney's Department of Administration
b. The Department of Transportation/Roads
c. The Governor's office
d. Legislative Services

Which Idaho Budget was cut the most?

a. Idaho Public Television
b. Idaho Parks & Recreation
c. The Governor's Office
d. Mike Gwartney's Department of Administration

Which of the following are quotes from actual language from real bills passed by the Idaho legislature in 2010?

a. “The phrase "In God We Trust" should appear on all coin and currency and references to God should be welcome in all public places and public verse.”

b. “WHEREAS, small business is the backbone of Idaho’s economy and local food production can help promote entrepreneurism and self ­sufficiency in Idaho’s small towns, revitalizing regional small farms, creating local jobs, business opportunities and the recirculation of capital within Idaho.”

c. “The state of Idaho hereby exercises its sovereign power to declare the public policy of the state of Idaho regarding the right of all persons residing in the state of Idaho in choosing the mode of securing health care services free from the imposition of penalties, or the threat thereof, by the federal government of the United States of America relating thereto.”

d. “No health care professional or employer of the health care professional shall be civilly, criminally or administratively liable for the health care professional declining to provide health care services that violate his or her conscience, except for life ­threatening situations as provided for in subsection (6) of this section."

e. All of the Above.

Some have said that Idahoans will die because the legislature refused to do simple things like use Millennium cigarette funds, part of the grocery tax credit or eliminate certain tax exemptions to avoid cutting so deeply into health & education budgets. Which groups of people might actually face the most dire health and life consequences because of the choice to cut 2011 budgets so deep?

a. People with Cystic Fibrosis who face tens of thousands of dollars in medication costs each year just to stay alive. The legislature eliminated all funding for assistance to adults.

b. People facing trauma, depression or other mental health issues including suicide. Mental health services for adults have been reduced since 2008 in what is already a bare bones system. The suicide hot line that once existed is gone leaving Idaho as the only state in the nation without a hot line.

c. More people needing mental health services. Rumors are that in an attempt to cover a $18 million deficit in Medicaid that mental health services to those on Medicaid will also be cut, leaving people to lose jobs, families & homes. Many will find help only if they enter an Idaho prison.

d. People wanting help and ready for treatment as they facing addiction to methamphtamine, heroin, alcohol and other drugs.The legislature refused to fund a $4.5 million deficit in the program. Over 2,500 people who were on a waiting list have been turned away.

e. Some of Idaho's most vulnerable adults & children with disabilities. Deep cuts to care & therapy services put lives at risk as those who struggle to stay independent face a loss of supports to keep them out of institutions or at risk of injury or illness in their own homes.

f. More people with disabilities. While the legislature rejected Butch Otter's attempts to de-fund the state's disability advocacy agencies, advocacy services that prevent abuse, protect the legal rights of many and ensure adequate access to remove barriers for a full life have been cut back, placing more people at risk.

f.All of the above.

Sorry that's so depressing. You can change this Legislature. VOTE! May 25 and especially Nov. 2! Get involved. In Boise we especially need hard working help for District 18 as Branden Durst runs to fill Kate Kelly's Senate seat and Janie Ward-Engelking runs to replace Durst in the House. Also exciting races in Districts 14 & 15 where Jen Stanko & Steve Berch sound dedicated, hard working and ready to gain some ground for Democrats in North West Boise and Eagle.

Deficit Budgets

What happens when we set what we call a budget but what we pass actually does not provide a department enough money to pay those businesses who provide services, keep adequate people employed, or maintain the machinery needed to do the job they are charged by law with doing?

What happens when the constitution requires us to fund an adequate education and yet we send schools $128 million less than they need and tell them to figure out which children they will not help or which classes, services and teachers the kids will have to do without?

What happens when it is an election year and law makers hate raising taxes in election years, so they adjourn leaving a fictional budget, knowing they plan to come back half way through the fiscal year to fix the mess they have made, then, only after the elections, raising raising taxes to try to balance a budget for real?

This morning Medicaid sounded desperate in the discussion over $3 to $5 million in cuts to nursing homes and care providers. Depending on how you do the math — but at minimum Medicaid has a $22 million deficit — and the fight we had over this small portion was so intense, I can only imagine now what will happen as they decide what to cut to save the remaining $18 or so million they are still in the hole. And to be clear, this is not shrinking government, these are private employers who provide these services, and they will be laying off people who make very low wages and will go on food stamp to make it through.

When you consider the federal match which provides $80 additional for every $20 we spend, our state loses closer to $100 million in health services with $20 million in cuts of state funding. This is $100 million in health services Idaho will not provide to Idaho's poor, to the children and people with disabilities. And there will be no hearing for those cuts. Those will be done by rule in heat of summer, quietly, no way to stop what unfolds.

Running Fictional Balances

This afternoon for the third day in a row we are again running quickly through bills. Hours on end of appropriations, memorials, resolutions and legislation with pages and pages of text and meaning. Fortunately for me I have already read most these bills in committee so I can ask questions, debate and even carry those assigned to me with some level of comfort. At some point though now it has started to get a bit mind numbing. Just now the Budget for the Department of Corrections was presented and the roll call vote began before I realized. No one else got up to ask a question, to debate this huge and delicate budget. I stood at my turn to vote and used my 60 seconds to say how I feel this budget will not hold. While the committee tried to keep our prison system from bursting its seams, in the end what we did will utterly fail to do that.

We cut substance abuse funding by $5 million and eliminated a waiting list of 2,500 people because the list of those needing treatment was growing by 300 people a month and our behavioral health division could not even pretend to address its backlog of those with addiction given that funds are not improving but actually again are going to decline.

So when we realize we have barely funded current prison needs, it is clear we are not prepared for prison populations to grow as they have already begun to again now that we are so utterly failing to offer people facing addition any alternative but to end up in prison or some other more tragic state that we and Idaho's families will have to grapple with for lifetimes.

The Idaho constitution requires the legislature to balance the state budget. This is a good thing in my opinion. 

I have worried though over the past ten years as I watched the legislature cut corporate taxes again and again in good years, shifting taxes onto families, a shift that puts the state at risk in economic downturns.

On budget after budget, I hear that an agency is likely to run out of money mid year. In this I realize our budgets, or what we are calling adequate funding to create a balanced budget, I realize this balance is, at best, fiction. 

Next year I hear Republicans plan to take up "tax reform" and raise taxes (after the elections) to balance the budget especially now that our reserves are gone, the stimulus is gone and we are more than half a billion below 2008 in tax revenue. I fear with the "reform" we will see more proposals that will raise taxes on families rather than any willingness to restore balance between corporations and families.This is a sinister trend and a frightening gamble to pretend this year to have some of these budgets balance to get through the elections when in fact this mound of paper, this funding plan for schools, prisons, treatment, medical assistance and all kinds of bits of government simply doesn't balance at all.


We sit in a marble tower, two blocks separate us from the offices of the Department of Health and Welfare. This morning we passed from JFAC $100 million in cuts to medical services for people with disabilities, for children and for adults with medical conditions and not enough income to afford care.

If Representative Fred Wood had had his way we would have only talked about the numbers. What passed was not a plan, not a working budget but a huge cut with instructions to the Governor and Department of Health & Welfare: "Hope you can make this work."

Unlike with education budgets yesterday, none of the affected parties were brought in. No stakeholder meetings were held with the disability community, with people with chronic illnesses or with the hospitals, clinics, doctors and nurses to see if this would work out. No, we have handed down a fly by the seat of your pants budget full of intent language acknowledging that it may fall apart by January. And if it does it seems that's ok because January is after the elections.

Fred Wood, maker of the motion, leader of the heartless, had the lack of sensitivity to mention going home as he wove his committee debate this morning there under the grand columns and the domed, cream colored ceiling. This is about going home. Passing this fly by the seat of our pants budget is about going home, not about us as law makers governing or leading or taking seriously our duty to do more than just make the numbers pan out.

Now we will watch the waiting lists grow and we know already that slowly the process is bogging down. Already the Department of Health & Welfare (whose employees are often some of the lowest paid in the state) already they close down half a day every other Friday without pay. Now they will close a whole days, close whole field offices so people if they have a car must drive and wait and perhaps still not get served, still not make it to the front of the line for help for a child, for food or something to get them through now that unemployment has run out.

Representative Wood, the scowling man with the mustache and thick glasses glaring over his microphone said we HAD to cut this budget as we did. He knows as well as I do that a single change in the grocery tax credit would fix this… He knows well that we could vote for one year not to give $40 grocery tax credits to Idahoans earning more than $20,000 a year ($40,000 for married couples.) The whole committee knows that this one simple $35 million change could prevent us from losing $120 million in federal funds and could have completely prevented us from making all these cuts in the Health Assistance budget this year.

This is where my heart sinks… knowing that posturing and protecting ourselves for our own legislative re-election comes before our responsibilities to the state and its people, particularly the most vulnerable. That is where my heart dies in this place, watching that over and over and over.

Schools on the Line

Looking at the legislative budget book I realize that the public schools and other budgets now are more or less fiction. You can go on line and look at the whole state budget. It is pages and pages and pages of numbers with some good narratives a little bit of year to year comparison and a few graphs. But when you look, you need to know a few things.

1) As of Friday we have voted not to spend as much money as even these bare bones budgets propose.

2) While the cuts don't say 14% or 10% these are cuts on top of cuts. Many cuts from last year were "made permanent" or now are the "base" from which we will set future budgets. We are digging downward. In mental health and substance abuse, in schools, when we look at the already bare bones health care we provide for people whose wages are too low to afford insurance we are undoing decades and years of progress in two short years.

3) We had stimulus money for schools last year when we set budgets. We don't have it this year.

4) To balance the budget now, after Friday's vote, we would have to cut school budgets, teachers, heat, lights, buses, counselors, everything by something like 15%. That is what will begin to happen next week unless my colleagues fear going home to constituents and admitting, yes we increased class sizes, laid off teachers and did nothing but cut deep deep into our public schools. It is up to the people of the state to render the fear of hurting schools perhaps more loathsome than the fear of not singing to the tea party tune of lowering taxes until there is little, less or no government left at all.

5) Over the course of history, budget bills have been killed by those unwilling to carry home the weight or harm of the budget to their districts. This sort of thing requires us to start over, to reassess what we had considered doing.

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