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Posts published in April 2013

Budget hearings

One of the changes in this year's Idaho legislative session from last was ... no public hearings on the budget. Last year, hundreds of people jammed hearings on budget settings. This year ... no hearings.

As to why no hearings this time, we'll leave aside. But it's worth quoting for a moment from a press release issued last week at the Oregon Legislature, which also is bearing down on budgeting.

Senator Richard Devlin (D-Tualatin) and Representative Peter Buckley (D-Ashland), co-chairs of the Legislature’s Joint Ways and Means Committee, announced today that the committee will hold six public hearings across the state to consider comments on the state budget.

The hearings will begin in Eugene and will include stops in Ashland, Bend, Hermiston, Portland, and Tillamook as well as a hearing at the State Capitol. Several of the meetings will offer live streaming of the meetings, and the Hermiston meeting will offer video conferencing so participants in other eastern Oregon locations can participate remotely.

Not getting our money’s worth

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

Today’s word is “SEQUESTER.” The two most popular definitions are “to hide away” and “to take by authority.” I would propose a third: “a nationally crippling action – totally self-inflicted – taken by the most incompetent Congress to ever sit in Washington, D.C.”

We’re entering our second month of this sequester madness. Little by little, “we, the people” are feeling the pressures. Each day brings word of new restrictions or ending a government service or program. Each day, millions more citizens who can’t afford the loss are forced to do so. Each day, the collective members of Congress sit on their collective asses and do nothing.

Here we are – two months in – and the only time you hear the word “sequester” is when it’s attached to some news story describing another loss of the government services we’ve already paid for. That’s the ONLY time!

Think about it. In the last two weeks, for example, have you heard the word “sequester” used positively in a story describing how concerned our members of Congress are about the load they’ve thrown on the electorate? Us? Have you read a single story – just one – saying Democrats and Republicans are working feverishly to end the moronic fiscal madness their infighting has caused? I mean, of course, aside from elimination of public tours of the White House which has angered traveling GOP constituents.

I have not. From beltway media, we’ve heard about immigration, gun safety, phony budgets passed in one house that won’t even get to a vote in the other. We’ve heard blame, name-calling, descriptions of new Republican-backed abortion bills and the 35th attempt to kill Obamacare. We’ve witnessed spineless filibusters to block presidential appointees and legislation that should’ve been placed for an up-or-down vote. We’ve heard tea party-types and their ignorant rants and even heard Hispanics called “wetbacks.” All in the last three weeks.

But honest work to solve real problems their intransigence and bickering have cost millions of Americans? None! Action to end this madness that threatens our national security? None! And it’s getting worse. Each day.

Here’s a tiny example in our northwest neighborhood. In Idaho, four small airports are losing FAA controller staff. Sequester. Accompanied by yet another government lie. “Closing the tower (and 148 others) should have no effect on safety,” according to an FAA spokesman. Take it from a former pilot, that’s not true. When existing traffic control was instituted at those airports, the FAA justified it by saying new services would “improve safety.” Well, if it did that then, how would removal not affect safety now? Which is it?
Some airlines won’t fly into airports without traffic control. Stop flights and how many lodging, restaurant, rental car companies and others will soon feel it? How many minimum wage employees will be let go? How many will turn to state and county governments for assistance? And who pays those bills? (more…)

First take: Vancouver waterfront

news

VANCOUVER DEVELOPMENT This was in the Briefing last week but certainly merits another highlight: What might be the single most transformative building project now up in the Northwest. It is a waterfront building effort in Vancouver on the shore of the Columbia River, where old mill property once was. A region once cut off from downtown by road and rail ways, it's now poised to become a major adjunct to downtown, and maybe over time even the center of it. A very big deal, highlighted on the front page of the Oregonian today.

A lobbyist’s take on the session

Watts
 
Greater Pocatello Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Matt Hunter (left) chats with lobbyist John Watts at an Idaho Falls luncheon. (photo/Mark Mendiola)

 

mendiola MARK
MENDIOLA

 
Reports

John Watts, a partner at Veritas Advisors, has been lobbying Idaho legislators since 1983 on behalf of a wide range of clients.

When he addressed an Idaho Falls Mayor’s Business Day luncheon on April 2, two days before the Legislature adjourned, he said its 2013 session has been “truly uniquely different,” setting new precedents and breaking traditions.

The Boisean said 24-hour cable news, cell phones and social media like Facebook and Twitter were not in existence 30 years ago when he started his career as a lobbyist, but they have dramatically changed the way business is now conducted at the State Capitol.

Everyone at the Statehouse also is worrying about issues at the federal level that directly impact Idaho, Watts said. “Then, along comes redistricting,” which brought about a whole new set of legislative districts and a crop of 32 brand new legislators.

And, for the first time in his memory, a sitting speaker of the House was defeated for re-election, Watts said, referring to Scott Bedke’s defeat of fellow Republican Lawrence Denney for the top post, which Denney has held since 2006.

A Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee education bill was defeated on the floor of the Senate. Watts said he does not remember in 30 years a JFAC bill dying such a death. Usually, JFAC legislation is considered a given because representatives of both houses work together to draft it.

Six of 10 Senate chairmanships and seven of 14 House chairmanships are
held by new legislators, Watts noted. There also is a new minority leader in the Senate. “Sophomores are sitting as chairs,” he said.

Watts likened the Idaho Legislature to a business where one third of the work force is replaced and told to start work the next day with up to 60 percent of the managers brand new. This session also marked the first time it was mandatory for all legislators to undergo ethics training.

One of the longest debates in the Legislature’s history also happened this session, pertaining to establishing a state health insurance exchange in response to the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare” taking effect.

The controversial issue was debated for nine hours on the House floor and for seven hours in the Senate, ranking for length of time with when abortion was debated in the Legislature during the early 1990s, Watts said. Full hearings regarding the health care issue took nearly two full months, too. (more…)

Coeur’s shuck and jive

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Pure unadulterated balderdash. Pure B.S. That's the only way to describe the baloney Coeur - the Precious Metals Company - is serving up as its excuse for relocating its corporate headquarters from Coeur d'Alene to Chicago later this year.

It's bad enough that most corporate Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) and Presidents are grossly overpaid by compliant boards, even when the CEO has failed miserably but is still given the proverbial golden parachute. When boards though give way and acquiesce to pure CEO vanity, shareholders ought to sue.

Make no mistake, folks, this move is an exercise in personal vanity by Coeur's president and chief executive officer, Mitchell Krebs. He and his wife both hail from the Chicago area and want to get closer to home.
So let's just pick up the corporate headquarters and move, ma!

What does it matter that 45 of their 65 employees will not be moving and will lose their jobs? After all, the company offered to relocate any one that wanted to keep their job by moving. Such a deal. So what then if a supportive community loses 45 good-paying jobs? And add 90 more secondary jobs (2 to 1 economic multiplier) for a total of 135 lost jobs.

So let's examine the proposed rationales. Chicago supposedly provides improved access to key stakeholders. Just what does that mean? Krebs can more frequently have lunch at a downtown club with a shareholder who if he really wanted to talk face-to-face could be in his corporate jet and in Coeur d'Alene within three hours?

More and easier access to your operations? Come again. Presumably he must mean commercial air access since Coeur does not have its own jet. To get to their Kensington Mine outside of Juneau one has to go through Seattle. Last time I checked Coeur d'Alene and Spokane's airports are closer than Chicago to Seattle.

Or their Chilean property. Best way to go is through Los Angeles. I think Spokane is closer than Chicago to LA's Airport.

Where the B.S. really starts to get thick is Krebs parroting Mayor Rahm Emanuel's propaganda about Chicago being a totally pro-business city.

Really? More so than Coeur d'Alene? Extremely doubtful. Chicago has one of the worst public school systems in the country. Chicago is very much a union town and make no mistake the historic patronage system is still alive and well.

Oh, but Coeur will also have access to a larger talent pool? Really? In this age of the internet that is doubtful. Besides, when mining companies go shopping for talent they tend to look where there are still vital schools of mines such as the Colorado School of Mines, or Montana Tech in Butte, or the University of Nevada at Reno or the University of Arizona.

Indeed, if one really did need to move for most of the trumped up reasons Krebs mentioned, most industry observers say that Phoenix or Denver would make much more sense. (more…)

A rightward repeat?

peterson MARTIN
PETERSON
 

Fifty years ago this summer, a group of very conservative Idaho Republicans put into motion a series of events destined to turn the direction of the Idaho Republican far to the right. It began at the 1963 state Republican convention with the election Gwen Barnett as Idaho’s Republican national committeewoman. At the time she was the youngest member of the national committee.

The following year the party nominated Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater to be its presidential standard bearer. It was a conservative revolution for the party and one that had disastrous consequences when Goldwater lost in a landslide to Lyndon Johnson.

Barnett had become a close ally of the Goldwater forces. Her friend Dean Burch, a former member of the Goldwater Senate staff, had been elected Republican national chairman. She was also close to such rising conservative stars as John Tower, who had become the first Republican elected to the senate from Texas since Reconstruction.

Following Goldwater’s defeat, Idaho Governor Robert Smylie, as chairman of the Republican Governors’ Association and a leading party moderate, led efforts to purge the party of Burch and others. Barnett responded by embarking on a personal crusade to purge Smylie from the party by defeating him when he ran for re-election in 1966. Her candidate became Don Samuelson, a three-term state senator from Sandpoint. Samuelson was a staunch conservative who, while serving a generally lackluster single term as Governor, helped to solidify the conservative element of the state party into the party’ driving force. He also helped to ensure that the Democrats, led by Cecil Andrus, would capture the governorship in 1970 for the first time in a quarter century.

Now fast forward fifty years to the 2013 legislative session. The defeat on the Senate floor of the public school appropriations bill on an 18-17 vote has been viewed by some legislative observers as being unprecedented. Not true. The last time this happened was in 1992, and it happened several times in the 1980s. The real story is not the actual defeat of the bill, but the driving forces behind the defeat.

In recent years the Senate has always been considered the moderate check against the more conservative forces in the House. But as of 2013, the pendulum has swung in the other direction. Actually, the swing had begun in 2010 when then Senator Joe Stegner, a GOP moderate, was defeated in his effort to be re-elected Republican assistant majority leader by conservative Senator Chuck Winder. (more…)

First take: PERS, school budget

news

PERS STAREDOWN The Oregonian describes it as "the staredown phase" at the Oregon Legislature, on the subject of PERS changes. So it seems to be, with opposing sides seemingly dug in and holding cards. The House Democrats (led, apparently rather tightly, by Speaker Tina Kotek) have dug in a small-bore set of changes to the state employee retirement system package, which is one of the most generous in the country and is digging deep into budget capabilities for everything else. House Republicans, in the minority and preferring larger-bore changes (scalebacks in payout), have no way to block that, but they do have enough votes to block prospective tax increases that would be needed if PERS changes are kept on the small side. Governor John Kitzhaber, pre-session, proposed a way (a middle path) to straddle those sides. Could it come down to whether he is able to negotiate compromise? Something like that has happened before in the last couple of sessions; this could be the iron test.

SCHOOL BUDGET PATH Last week's Senate floor rejection of the Idaho public schools budget seemed enough like a narrow turf fight over relatively minor issues, among people who ordinarily are not locked in battle with each other, than it didn't (and doesn't) seem like a long-term dealbreaker. So it seems: The Idaho Ed News site reports "Sen. Dean Cameron said a series of meeting between lawmakers late Monday went well enough that he sees “a path forward” to solving the Legislature’s school budget dilemma and adjourning as early as Thursday."

The new bloc

weatherby JAMES
WEATHERBY
 

Introducing here James Weatherby, whose column will begin appearing here periodically. Weatherby is a political analyst, emeritus professor and former lobbyist who lives in Boise. He is a former professor at Boise State University and a former executive director of the Association of Idaho Cities.

Going into this year’s Idaho legislative session there was a lot of talk about the first-year class and speculation about its potential impact. The biggest bloc of newcomers are Republican House members who represent over 40% of the GOP House caucus.

This huge class is largely due to redistricting, retirements, and the migration to the Senate of several of last year’s House members.

Speaker Scott Bedke has had many kind words to say about these new House members – understandable to some degree because they no doubt helped provide the margin of victory for his historic election as Speaker. But he should be impressed, regardless. They have interesting, diverse backgrounds and many have local government leadership experience. Eventually dubbed by the media as the “gang of 16,” this group is from across the state. Every region is represented: 3 (northern), 4 (southwestern), 3 (southcentral), and 6 (southeastern).

Their coming together was one of the more interesting stories in recent Idaho legislative politics. As a group force, unlike some of their earlier predecessors, these rookies have not been bashful. Their most notable action was their support of a “trailer bill” to strengthen legislative oversight of a proposed state health insurance exchange. If the oversight language were added, these freshmen would support the exchange. From all appearances their 16 (later only 14) votes turned out to be crucial to the final passage of the exchange legislation. Fourteen votes represented a big share of the 36 votes needed to pass this highly controversial House bill.

The defection of the two original “gang” members who ultimately voted no denied Speaker Scott Bedke a majority of his own caucus in support of the biggest bill of this legislative session. The GOP House caucus split 28-29 on the measure. Democratic votes were necessary to pass the bill – a rather rare occurrence.

The close vote illustrates a significantly divided caucus which comes as no real surprise. The 2 final defections also are indicative of the intense pressure applied to all members and maybe more specifically to the freshmen who were barely settled into their new positions before they were required to vote on what may be the defining vote of their legislative careers.

The emergence of this coalition is a reminder of the rather large freshman and sophomore classes in the 1980s primarily created by a major change in legislative redistricting. Fourteen House seats were added by a judicially imposed redistricting plan which enlarged the House from 70 members to 84.

Freshmen Representatives Jerry Deckard (R-Eagle) and Dean Haagenson (R-Coeur d’Alene) were the leaders of what became known as the “Steelhead Caucus” named for fish who swim upstream. These moderates were in very conservative waters in their own caucus.

During the 1980s and 1990s the “Steelheads” had several major policy victories (increased funding for education, for example) as well as helping to elect a centrist (or less conservative) Speaker: Tom Boyd sharply differed in leadership style and, to a degree, ideological orientation from the former Speaker Tom Stivers. One cannot understand the legislative politics of that era without taking into account the significant contributions of this informal caucus. (more…)

Change or perish

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

I’m about to offer several suggestions for which – I’m certain – there’ll be a pile of reasons (excuses) why each won’t work. Failing the smart test, there’ll be more reasons (excuses) why none of them can be done. But I’m a persistent guy and used to swimming upstream. So, here goes.

The premise for these offerings is this one statement. No state in the country really needs all the counties it has. None. In fact, 2012 Census Bureau statistics show one in three U.S. counties is dying. Dying. Put another way, 1,135 of the nation’s 3,143 counties are now experiencing “natural decrease” as deaths exceed births. The young – and immigrants – are moving to the cities.

Oregon has 36 counties – Idaho 44 – Washington 39. That’s 119. Each with commissioners (three to five each), sheriffs, assessors, clerks, judges, treasurers, courts. And jails. Lots of jails. Lots of rundown jails. Some crowded. Some nearly empty. All expensive. With decreasing residents for support. Taxpayers. You and me.

So, Sheriff Kiern Donahue in Idaho’s Canyon County is now publicly asking why several nearby counties can’t pool their resources to build regional jails to serve multiple counties? I’ve been asking that for years.

Idaho has seven judicial districts. Sheriff Donahue wants to know why all counties in each district couldn’t share one judicial district jail? “Corrections facility” or whatever. Huge construction savings. Reduced staff. Video links for arraignments rather than deputies tied up on costly travel. Less crowding. Seems to make a lot of sense. So much so the naysayers are out even at the suggestion stage.

Let’s just stay with Idaho for a minute. I’ve wondered for a long time why it needs 44 counties with 44 duplicate governments. Seems to me you could put one prosecutor, for example, in each of the seven judicial districts to handle major crimes and deputies with much smaller staffs in individual counties for lesser crimes. If you can have a county seat, why not a district seat with smaller and less expensive “little seats” in the counties?

Same for assessors, clerks, treasurers. One per district with deputies in the counties. Why not an elected commission per district with an administrator in each county? Even make the local administrators elected if need be.

Go even further. Do we need all of our school districts? Why not several regional superintendents per state with county of deputy “super’s” at county or district levels? Idaho, for example, has 118 districts. Do we really need 118 duplicate administrations and all the added costs?

Really?

Much of this government business is created by state constitutions or state codes. “Engraved in stone” as it were. “Just can’t be changed,” some say. I don’t buy that. When needs change or ways of doing things make the old ways unnecessary or outdated, state laws – and state constitutions – can be changed by the electorate. You and me.

Well, needs and times have changed. Technology has changed how we do a lot of things. We don’t think or live the same daily lives as our ancestors did in 1890 when Idaho became a state or 1859 for Oregon or 1889 in Washington. Everything we do has changed – everything – but we’re still hamstrung by what were perceived to be the governmental needs and formats of pioneer citizens over a century ago. (more…)

How to stop the sequester

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

A couple of weeks ago I was on Capitol Hill. In between meetings, I sat in the sun and watched tourists come and go. I also saw the First Amendment in action -- the right of the people to petition the government for a redress of grievances (or lobbying as it’s known these days) -- as tribal leaders, community representatives and lobbyists rushed past the visitors on their way to their next appointment.

This is the tried-and-true formula for reversing such things as the sequester. Someone from the home district flies to Washington and then makes the case to their member of Congress for a different course. It’s how the process is supposed to work.

It’s even possible that this route will work again. Sometime this summer when Congress enacts a new debt ceiling or next year’s budget there might be enough support to fix the worst problems of the sequester.

Then again it’s important to remember that the sequester is just one element in the broader austerity push. Austerity is a trend in governance, federal, state, and even tribal, and resources will continue to shrink. The only way to slow, let alone reverse, this trend is to substitute the players on Capitol Hill. In other words: Win the next election.

What if Democrats ran the House of Representatives and the Senate during Obama’s last two years in office? The budgets would be far superior for Indian Country (to be fair: there is support from Republicans for Indian Health Service and Bureau of Indian Affairs money, the difference would be that Democrats support that revenue stream plus money from other federal program sources.) (more…)