The groups, which include labor, human rights and activists of various stripes, say Otter favors business over ordinary workers and belittles the contributions of the public sector.
The full statement follows:
United Vision for Idaho convened a joint session with grassroots organizations and community leaders to evaluate the Governor’s State of the State and Budget Address. Attendees represented diverse organizations including labor, human rights, and social, economic and environmental activists, who will be working on the front lines and throughout the legislative session to advocate for sound public policy. In response to the address and the agenda put forth for the 2013 legislative session, we found the content of the speech to be largely out of touch with the realities facing Idahoans.
Governor Otter unveiled his vision for the state and his budgetary priorities echoing the same agenda he has put forth year after year which rely on the failed policies of the past that place priority on corporations and big business, leaving hard-working Idahoans and their real struggles out of the equation. The forecast; Idaho will continue with business as usual which has led us to the social, economic, and environmental crises we face today.
Year after year the Governor uses this forum to remind us of the fierce, independent Idaho character and the need for personal responsibility, while ushering in a period of renewed sacrifice, but for the business sector. But his latest recommendation goes a step further, calling for the removal of the business (personal) property tax to the tune of $140-million, to cut unemployment taxes on business by $50-million.
The governor appears starkly out of touch with the debates that have gripped the nation over fair economic policy and worse yet with the realities facing Idahoans. Idaho ranks at the bottom 42nd in the nations earnings. Unemployment and underemployment rank near 23rd worst among the states. And Idahoans hold the highest ranking among states where individuals have to work one or more jobs simply to make ends meet. Despite this the Governor did little to address the harsh realities that continue to face Idaho’s working families. Instead, his proposal would award business property tax exemptions and burden rural communities in particular with the cost of offsetting these.
Labor partners were quick to point out that, neighboring states have taken it upon themselves to address the needs of the working poor by raising their minimum wage. Meanwhile, Idaho has no law guaranteeing a simple lunch break for someone working more that eight hours. It is mind boggling that in Idaho today we still have to fight for such modicums of human dignity. While people across our state face real struggles, their pay is not only incommensurate with the work they perform, and unreflective of cost of living adjustments, Idaho’s unions and advocates are relegated to fighting for the most basic of human rights.
When legislators cut school funding in past years, and when Gov. Otter signed those budgets, they all promised that schools would be made whole when the economy improved. Defiant about the mandate issued by the voters to reject the Luna laws and restore funding to our public schools who have suffered years of neglect, he has proposed only a 2-percent increase in spending on them next year, even though he forecasts that state revenues will grow by 5.3-percent. Meanwhile, he has called on the legislature to put $35-million into the state’s rainy day fund. Which begs the question, how bad does it have to get for Idaho’s children before the conditions qualify as rainy?
Struck by the realities of recent events that are increasingly taking place in one our nation’s public schools, we know that there are consequences for our investments, or lack thereof. In the Governor’s statement he reference the terrible tragedy we all saw take place in Connecticut, which shocked the nation and rightly caused members of both parties to reflect on the conditions that led to this horrible event. And, while the debate continues over how best to address these, be it gun control, or a renewed emphasis on mental health services, we saw Idaho’s governor use this as an opportunity to award $70 million dollars to Idaho’s privately run prison facility. In essence, suggesting that in Idaho, if you are to receive increased mental health services, you must first commit a crime. This is an archaic approach. As we look to the vital social services that government affords it’s citizens, we ought to be thinking about how we can prevent similar tragedies from taking place.
The governor’s budget also slams the door on the working poor. Despite the unanimous approval of his task force and the fact that it would be a net financial gain for the state, he has refused to recommend expansion of Medicaid. There are about 100,000 low-income adults in Idaho who don’t currently qualify for Medicaid. Taxpayers cover their medical bills through the state’s Catastrophic Fund. Under the proposed expansion, the federal government would pay most costs. That’s bad math as well as bad policy.
We also acknowledge and thank Governor Otter for his new position on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and his willingness to embrace the fact that this federal law is the law of the land. As we move forward with a State Exchange program we hope to do so in a bipartisan fashion that incorporates all points of views and affords Idahoans with the best access to the medical services which in our view is a fundamental human right.
But, perhaps most disturbing were those issues not mentioned by the Governor. Using his own words, “despite what [he] may have seen on the news,” last year saw activism in Idaho reach new heights. Whether the introduction of a mandatory ultrasound bill, or the repeal of the Luna laws, Add the Words, “Fracking” in Payette county, or the countless other issues that came before the Idaho legislature, literally thousands of people took to the Capitol in testimony, in protest, in print, and in person to demand that public policy reflect the will of the people. This reflects a turning tide in Idaho politics. Like never before Idahoans are becoming informed, and engaged. There is no sign of this slowing down. This legislative session promises another year of debate on many of these issues, and more. But, things have changed.
It is no secret that the Governor takes the position, while a public servant himself, that the private sector holds the key to a prosperous future. But, lest we forget, it was the public sector that put a man on the moon. It was the public sector that created our interstate highway system. And yes, the public sector invented the Internet, long before Google and Facebook could make a penny off it. It is the public sector that provides safety and security, ensures that the water we drink and the food we eat are safe. The public sector creates infrastructure, provides jobs, and ensures the health and security of our nation. And it is the private sector; small businesses, local providers, and individuals with the ability to bridle their ingenuity, innovation, and creativity, and by their investments have strengthened the fabric of our state and nation. All throughout America’s history, the public and the private sector have worked together to create opportunity. Fundamentally, our difference is one of how we view our human character, personal responsibility and stewardship. The organizations and leaders who took part in this annual discussion share the view that in Idaho as in our country, we all do better, when we all do better! And to that end, our organizations on the ground will continue to champion the rights of all people and not just Idaho’s top earners.
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