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Rusche on priorities

ridenbaugh Northwest
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An opinion piece from Idaho State Representative John Rusche, D-Lewiston, the House minority leader, reflecting on this year's legislative session.

No Idaho parent asked me to come to this Legislature and underfund Idaho’s public education system. That, however, is the action endorsed last week by the House of Representatives when the majority party passed a $126 million tax cut for businesses and the wealthy.

Bills like this one make it hard for me to go home to my constituents and tell them that my peers in the majority party share their values of opportunity and educational success. It is hard for me to offer Idaho
families hope that Idaho’s elected leaders are prepared to bridge the gap between promises and actions.

After 20 years of this kind of flawed policy, Idaho ranks 50Eh in family wages, first in percentage of minimum wage jobs and near-last in per student investment.

These poor outcomes are interrelated. These outcomes result from a generation of generous tax cuts to the rich while cutting investment in our children’s future. Even businesses that might desire such a tax reduction would be loathe to seek it at the expense of a sound public education system.

Two problems I see with this bill (H 548). First, it does not reflect the wishes of ldahoans. Second, it ignores the evidence of the Majority’s past tax policy.

As of now, 94 out of the state’s 115 school districts must pass supplement levies simply to keep the lights on. Just 15 years ago, only 41 districts need such levies. In the intervening time, Idaho slashed its ability to raise money for education by cutting taxes for the rich. What happens if there is another $126 million removed and unavailable?

Local taxpayers took on ever increasing tax burdens. Why? Idaho families never said they wanted to see the opportunities for their children diminish. Twenty years of failed policy has led to many school
districts with 4-day school weeks, reduction in extracurriculars and more crowded classrooms.

So, if the Legislature continues to short public schools, the local school districts ask to raise property taxes to keep operating. Are parents and communities going to choose to limit their children’s potential? If they have a choice, none will do it. So in elections, the incumbent legislators brag that they are “cutting taxes”. And are “fiscal conservatives”. They have been playing and, it appears, continue to want to play, “hide the ball” and shift financial responsibility to local property taxes. Is that making education
a priority? (more…)

Overreliance

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From a March 6 post on the Boise Guardian.

At the risk of posting another typical “growthophobe” story, we offer up a major caution in the rush to embrace the Gardner folks’ latest plan for downtown Boise.

As wise businessmen, they are gathering as much public funding as possible to build on some pretty small plots adjacent to the Grove Hotel and the U.S. Bank building.
Plans for their “City Center Plaza” call for buy-ins from Valley Transit for an underground transit hub as well as the Greater Boise Auditorium District which has money burning a hole in its pocket collected from the hotel tax.

There will be assorted easements and complex deals regarding above and below ground ownership as well. The Urban renewal agency, Capital City Development Corp (CCDC) will also give taxpayer funds to Gardner.

It wasn’t long ago that Mark Rivers was the heart throb of city development politicos. He went with the Lt. Guv to Europe, was featured speaker at the City Club and offered all sorts of plans to supplement his BoDo project. Well, BoDo was built, tenants have come and gone, a third of the parking spaces in the public parking garage are not available to the public and the rest of the spaces are so cramped they keep body shops in business fixing dents. It’s a success.

For more hints on why Rivers has faded from prominence, just do a Google search for MARK RIVERS DEVELOPER.
Gardner has filled the hole in the ground with the Zion’s Bank building and is looking for more. The problem we see is the urban renewal district expires in 2017. We expect some manipulation of the law and funds in order to extend the CCDC jurisdiction beyond 2017. The best we can learn from sources is “its unclear” who owns what and who pays after 2017.

In conclusion, we urge caution in putting too much faith–and public money–in one developer. We joke that “downtown Boise is so crowded no one goes there.” Jamming more buildings into our once “quaint” downtown creates shadows on existing structures, high winds with the venturi effect, and blocks the scenic views from many angles.

Washington, D.C. doesn’t allow tall buildings and that isn’t all bad. Our message is to reassess the need and desire to fill all the surfaces with megastructures. Do we really want to hide the capitol from view and create a big city feel?

Some would say building downtown condos, megastructures, etc. creates a demand for more traffic which can then be managed with a transit system which needs a transit center, which makes the foundation for another tall building…we see another Fairview and Eagle, but with no sunshine.

‘Who is going to be harmed’?

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After commenting a couple of weeks ago that the Idaho legislature was mistaken not to pass legislation to "add the words" to provide employment, housing and other other protections on the basis of sexual orientation or identity, Republican former Governor (1995-99) Phil Batt followed up with this opinion article widely reprinted in Idaho newspapers.

The Idaho Legislature has once again decided to take no action to include sexual orientation under our anti-discrimination statutes. Instead, lawmakers seriously considered state approval of anti-gay incidents if they are done because of religious convictions.

These procedures and the protests generated by them have attracted the attention of major news outlets in large cities and even that of London newspapers.

Idaho leaders have said this is of no interest to present or prospective business opportunities in our state. In my career as a legislative leader and as a governor, I found otherwise. Large Idaho corporations, and particularly Hewlett-Packard and Boise Cascade, were very much concerned about Idaho’s reputation regarding tolerance.

The long presence of practicing Nazis in North Idaho caused negative press coverage of our beloved state worldwide. HP executives and other Idaho businesspeople helped force these scumbags out. However, the main credit goes to North Idaho citizens, who detested their abominable presence.

When an Idaho congresswoman said people of color would not live in North Idaho because it was too cold for them, we got another wave of bad publicity. She recanted her views and our good name was again restored.

Our Idaho executives told me that the state’s reputation is important to their businesses. If it is damaged, sales are hurt. Perhaps more important, it becomes much more difficult to attract outstanding, well-qualified and forward-thinking people to apply for Idaho employment.

Such is the case for a couple of my grandchildren. Max is gay. He attended Boise schools. He felt marginalized and troubled by some of the treatment he received from students and teachers. Ultimately, he dropped out, obtained his GED and moved to San Francisco. (more…)

Why no defense

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Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum said on February 20 she would not try to defend in court the state's constitutional provision barring same-sex marriage. Here's her explanation.

Good morning. As many Oregonians are aware, four couples have brought suit against the state, asking a federal court to find that Oregon’s ban on marriage by couples of the same sex violates the right of equality enshrined in the United States Constitution. I am named as a defendant in the lawsuits, along with the Governor, and it falls on my office to appear on behalf of the state before the court and answer the couples’ claims.

Usually — though not always — my office defends the state in litigation. As Attorney General, I have sworn an oath to uphold our state’s constitution. The lawyers in my office have sworn the same oath. The oath we took also requires us to uphold the Constitution of the United States – which is the supreme law of our land. Of course, we all take these oaths very seriously.

So it is after much careful study and consideration that I stand before you today to announce that the Oregon Department of Justice will not defend the prohibition in our state's constitution against marriages between people of the same sex. A document called an “answer” filed with the court earlier this morning informed Judge McShane of our decision. Copies are available for you.

Because our office also represents the people of Oregon, a brief explanation is in order.

The Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution gives people the right to be treated equally by their government, unless there is a good reason for unequal treatment. That is, any time the government establishes different sets of rules or laws for different sets of people, there must at least be what the law calls a “rational basis” for those differences.

The law in this area is developing and it is now clear that there is no rational basis for Oregon to refuse to honor the commitments made by same-sex couples in the same way it honors the commitments of opposite-sex couples. Marriage is the way that loving couples become family to each other and to their extended families, and there is no good reason to exclude same-sex couples from marriage in Oregon, or from having their marriages recognized here.

Because we cannot identify a valid reason for the state to prevent the couples who have filed these lawsuits from marrying in Oregon, we find ourselves unable to stand before federal Judge McShane to defend the state’s prohibition against marriages between two men or two women.

We will be explaining our legal reasoning to Judge McShane as this case proceeds. Those of you who are interested will be more than welcome to review our pleadings as they are filed. Legal papers that are due by April will fully address our analysis and that of the other parties in the two cases that are now consolidated.

Thank you.

Unwinding anti-competition

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Federal District Judge Lynn Winmill ruled today that a buyout by St. Luke's Health System of the Saltzer Medical Group at Nampa violated anti-trust law.
The case had been brought by St. Alphonus Medical Center-Nampa. The decision followed a trial in October.

Winmill's decision was led with a plain-language summary of analysis that runs through recent views of the economics of health care.

From that analysis:

For years, health care costs have exceeded the inflation rate. Americans spend more on health care than the next 10 biggest spenders combined – a list that includes Japan, Germany, France and the U.K. – yet we lag behind many of them on quality and patient outcomes. In Idaho, the quality of our health care is outstanding, but we pay
substantially more than the national average for that quality.

Among the experts, there is a rough consensus on a solution to the cost and quality concerns nationwide. They advocate moving away from our present fee-for-service health insurance reimbursement system that rewards providers, not for keeping their patients healthy, but for billing high volumes of expensive medical procedures. A far better system would focus on maintaining a patient’s health and quality of life, rewarding successful patient outcomes and innovation, and encouraging less expensive means of providing critical medical care. Such a system would move the focus of health care back to the patient, where it belongs.

In fact, there is a broad if slow movement to such a system. It will require a major shift away from our fragmented delivery system and toward a more integrated system where primary care physicians supervise the work of a team of specialists, all committed to a common goal of improving a patient’s health.

St. Luke’s saw this major shift coming some time ago. And they are to be complimented on their foresight and vision. They started purchasing independent physician groups to assemble a team committed to practicing integrated medicine in a system where compensation depended on patient outcomes.

In Nampa, they acquired the Saltzer Medical Group. The
combined entity now includes 80% of the primary care physicians in Nampa. Its size, and the sterling reputations of Saltzer and St. Luke’s, make it the dominant provider in the Nampa area for primary care, and give it significant bargaining leverage over health insurance plans.

These circumstances prompted the Federal Trade Commission, and a group of other health care providers including St. Alphonsus and Treasure Valley Hospital, to file this lawsuit claiming that the Acquisition violated the antitrust laws. They ask the Court to unwind the deal.

The antitrust laws essentially require the Court to predict whether the deal under scrutiny will have anticompetitive effects. The Court predicts that it will. Although possibly not the intended goal of the Acquisition, it appears highly likely that health care costs will rise as the combined entity obtains a dominant market position that will enable it to (1) negotiate higher reimbursement rates from health insurance plans that will be passed on to the consumer, and (2) raise rates for ancillary services (like x-rays) to the higher hospital-billing rates.

The Acquisition was intended by St. Luke’s and Saltzer primarily to improve patient outcomes. The Court is convinced that it would have that effect if left intact, and St. Luke’s is to be applauded for its efforts to improve the delivery of health care in the Treasure Valley. But there are other ways to achieve the same effect that do not run afoul of the antitrust laws and do not run such a risk of increased costs. For all of these reasons, the Acquisition must be unwound.

Coziness

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An opinion piece written by Idaho Democratic Chair Larry Kenck.

We the People of Idaho do not control what happens in our Statehouse. Lobbyists and special interests are calling the shots there. The outcome: more cash for the wealthy and higher taxes for the rest of us.

If Idaho’s rank as 50th in family wages is not enough proof of that, then look at the cozy relationship between high-powered lobbyists and GOP politicians.

On January 10th, GOP politicians skipped work to attend a free campaign school organized by Idaho’s most powerful lobbyists—for more than two hours during a time of day that our legislators to be working for all of us.

Over 50 GOP politicians attended the “Republican Incumbents Campaign School.”

School attendee, Sen. Dean Mortimer, said this: “Skip and the others are saying, ‘Anything we can do to help get you re-elected, we’re here.’”

Idahoans should note—the lobbyists said they’ll do “anything” to keep GOP politicians in power. (“Skip” is former Sen. Skip Smyser, longtime lobbying powerhouse who is partnered with a former chief of staff for … Governor Otter.)

Why does this matter? What does this lobbyist-GOP politician partnership mean?

It is the reason that Idaho families are suffering through an economic catastrophe. After 20 years of handouts to the wealthy and well-connected, our families are paying for it. (more…)

Questions for Idaho Ed News

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An opinion from Travis Manning on the Idaho Education News organization. a Note: The Nampa Idaho Press Tribune notes that "Since July 19, the Idaho Press-Tribune has published a funding disclaimer
with Idaho Education News stories."

Sen. Branden Durst’s recent op-ed critiquing Superintendent Luna’s “end around” the Idaho legislature, and his subsequent analysis of GOP political genealogy, has merit, especially as it relates to a newly minted news organization called Idaho Education News (IEN).

Funded by The Albertson Foundation, IEN started seven months ago in order to advance the school privatization agenda of Chairman Joe Scott. They bought the Boise State University name, where IEN is housed, simply by donating millions of dollars. Strategically, Albertson hired away established reporters Kevin Richert, Jennifer Swindell and Clark Corbin to do its messaging work, under the auspices of their new identity. Albertson uses the B.S.U. trademark as a PR gimmick to expedite credibility within Idaho.

Albertson and IEN blur the arena of ethical journalism, which situation is different from Boise State’s relationship with National Public Radio, where Boise State Public Radio, an NPR affiliate, is housed. In this case, NPR is an already-established news entity with decades-long experience and an international reputation for quality and unbiased reporting. IEN is far from achieving NPR’s status.

While I wouldn’t say IEN produces “pseudo journalism,” as Sen. Durst suggests, I will say they have work to do. If IEN is not careful, they will be seen as the propaganda arm of Scott and Albertson, much like IdahoReporter.com is seen as the propaganda machine of The Idaho Freedom Foundation and Executive Director Wayne Hoffman (and whomever else funds the IFF, as Hoffman refuses to publicly disclose its corporate master).

I queried Betsy Russell, president of the Capitol Correspondents Association, as to why IEN received full press credentials as an upstart news organization and IdahoReporter has not. Her response, that “All three of their reporters are B.S.U. employees. The grant from the Albertson Foundation went to B.S.U. No one involved with the operation is involved in lobbying, which is key to credentialing. That is why IdahoReporter.com doesn’t qualify; it is a lobbying organization headed by a registered lobbyist.”

In a recent IEN article, cross-published by the Idaho Press-Tribune on July 19 titled, “Nampa, Vallivue among districts chosen for Idaho Leads program,” such a disclosure was not placed. Whenever IEN reports on projects associated with The Albertson Foundation it is, essentially, reporting on itself. Not to disclose such a conflict of interest is entirely unethical. The Idaho Press-Tribune, and news outlets statewide, need to be cognizant. (more…)

Oregonian: Change your mind

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Elected officials don't often give public advice to private businesses on how they should do business. Portland City Council member Steve Novick however, did just that in a recent blog post.

On August 7, the Oregonian had a very nice editorial commending me for changing my mind about something I was planning to do. It occurred to me that the Oregonian itself, and its parent company, Advance Publications, could gain a lot of good will if they changed their minds about some things they are planning to do. So I figured I might as well give them my two cents:

Don’t eliminate seven-day delivery.

Eliminating a seven-day-a-week paper is bad for democracy; as Mayor Hales said, online we look only for the things we know we're interested in, but when we see a front page, we can wind up reading about something we should care about but never thought about before. Advance (owned by the Newhouse family) is the only national chain that is doing this; are they really sure they’re smarter than everyone else? And the Oregonian is, according to the publisher, making money; they don’t have to do this to survive.

Don’t fire Scott Learn.

Scott covers environmental issues, and does it very well. He tells complicated stories in an accessible way. And he hasn't always only done environmental stories; I remember a fine piece he did on the inequities in our screwed-up property tax system in, I think, 2005. He's one of the best reporters the Oregonian has ever had. And a really nice guy, too.

Don’t fire Ryan White.

Ryan is now the music critic, but he's mostly just a fantastic all-around writer. He created one of the funniest things I've ever seen, back in 2008, when he had a sports blog - the Best Thing in the World Competition, an NCAA-tournament style competition to determine, simply, the Best Thing In the World, through fan voting. The competition featured terrific, gripping matchups like Mike Ditka vs. Fire, Keith Jackson vs. The Wheel, and, if I recall correctly. Las Vegas vs. Sliced Bread. How could the guy who came up with that idea be out of a job?
But he’s also a very good music critic. A couple weeks back, I attended a Randy Newman concert, and Newman thanked “Mr. White from the paper” for his article previewing the concert. I’ve never, ever heard an artist do that before. Randy Newman is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I don’t think the Oregonian is likely to find another music critic who gets shout-outs from Hall of Famers.

Don’t fire David Sarasohn.

Just as a business decision I think it's insane; I am quite confident that thousands of Oregonians mostly get the paper to read David Sarasohn. David is a fine, gentle, funny writer. He has (among other things) waged a fierce single-handed battle against childhood hunger in Oregon. And here are just a couple personal memories: He had a piece on Lewis and Clark some years ago, in which he noted how many things in Oregon are named after Lewis and Clark, and said that if weren't for them we'd have lots of Oregon places and institutions with names like "Fred." I emailed him and said I thought "Fred" would be a fine place name, and suggested (I hope this doesn't offend anyone in Gresham) that I don't see why people in Gresham would object to living in Fred instead. David immediately fired back with a soliloquy on the historical importance of Postmaster General Walter Gresham. Another time, the O had a headline on Amtrak cuts titled "Blood on the Tracks," So I emailed David saying I'd always hoped the O would have more headlines based on Bob Dylan album titles, and was glad they were finally coming around. He immediately responded, "Don't you remember our headline on the Barbara Roberts - Norma Paulus budget battle, "Blonde on Blonde”?” I doubt any paper in America has an editorial writer with a more refined sense of culture, history and wit than that.

The Oregonian wrote, “Switching course … can take even more courage than sticking to a controversial position.” So show your courage, Oregonian! Switch your course. A lot of people would be very proud of you.

Water, farmers and the state

From an August 1 newsletter by state Representative Doug Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls.

It has become increasingly evident, over the past several years, that the Oregon Water Resources Department is no longer a friend of agriculture.

Perhaps their position was best demonstrated by the lack of support for the Department’s budget. On the day their budget was to be voted on the Senate floor, the only letter of support was from the Oregon Conservation Network. There was no letter of support from any farm, ranch, nursery, groundwater or industrial water users..... NONE!

A companion Department fee bill, HB 2259, was returned to the Senate Rules Committee from the Senate floor because there were not enough votes to pass the bill. The Committee significantly reduced the requested fee increases. Our bipartisan coalition forced that nearly unprecedented action, because we believed the fee increases were absurdly excessive and the purpose of many of the fee increases were counterproductive to Oregon’s economy.

The Oregon Conservation Network is a coalition of more than 40 mostly extreme environmentalist organizations. Some of the Networks stated priorities for the recently concluded legislative session included:

 To promote a tax on each water right in order to support more stringent water regulation.
 To manage Oregon waters to encourage more transfers from agricultural use to in stream flows for the benefit of fish.
 To create a ban on suction dredge gold mining in Oregon.
 And, to expand Oregon Scenic Rivers to include not only rivers but creeks and small tributaries.

Most of the Network’s legislative agenda was either introduced or supported by the Oregon Water Resources Department. The Department actively promoted a mosaic of legislation that, in its entirety, would have significantly changed existing Oregon water law.

Virtually all proposed bills would have either further regulated out of stream water use or enhanced the Department’s ability to authorize transfers of existing irrigation water rights to in stream flows. Several attempts were introduced to provide the Department authority to buy and sell water rights through contracts with little regard for priority dates or potential injury to other water right holders.

The Department’s efforts to increase their revenue included new and increased fees for services, a substantial new fee to change the name on a water right certificate or permit, and a new annual $100 tax on all water rights. They explained that they needed the extra money to help implement their proposed changes.

It appears that the Conservation Network’s primary purpose for supporting the expansion of scenic rivers is to restrict the use of private land and water resources.

Current law provides that all uses of private land within a quarter of a mile of a scenic river are strictly regulated. No new surface water diversions are allowed from any Oregon Scenic River. No new wells for irrigation are allowed, without bucket for bucket mitigation in the event that the groundwater aquifer is considered to be connected to the scenic waterway.

In fact, any existing well may be ruled-off if the well is constructed within a mile of the scenic river or a tributary of the scenic river. The Department has the legal authority to shut down any such well, regardless of the priority date of the well.

With the current drought conditions in Southern Oregon, and the Klamath River adjudication being implemented, you may not have noticed that the Oregon Water Resources Department is already doing these things in the Klamath River Basin. The Department has refused to permit or delayed the permitting of a number of new wells that were constructed in the upper basin during the past four years.
At the same time, the Department was working on a modeled analysis of the regional aquifer in the upper basin. That four year modeling study has recently been completed. To no ones’ great surprise, the Department has concluded, from the model, the aquifer is connected with the scenic Klamath River. (more…)

The qui(e)t agenda?

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The question of whether there's more to the story of Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna and the contract on school wi-fi provision he recently signed is addressed in this op-ed by Democratic state Senator Brandon Durst.

UPDATE: Here's a reply from Kevin Richert to the Durst article below.

Soon the final pieces will be in place and the puzzle will be complete.

Many Idahoans expressed outrage and concern when Superintendent Tom Luna attempted to ram his ill conceived Students Come First plan down our collective throats. Luckily, Idahoans wisely rejected the Luna Laws and made their voices heard.

Governor Otter responded to the electoral bashing by appointing a (stacked) task force to review options for education reform. Unsurprisingly, the task force refused to look at the most empirically tested approaches to improving education (more early learning opportunities, teacher mentoring, etc.) and decided to continue to follow along the same trail.

Meanwhile, Boise State University, under the auspices of “leading” started the Idaho Leads Project, funded almost entirely by the Albertsons Foundation (more on that in a minute). They appointed Roger Quarles, at that time the superintendent to the Caldwell School District, to run the show. They also hired Jennifer Swindell, the PR flak for the Caldwell School District. Both Mr. Quarles and Ms. Swindell were on record for actively supporting the Luna Laws and Mr. Quarles pro-Luna bent went as far back supporting the failed iSTARS plan (the predecessor to the Luna Laws pushed by Luna in 2007).

The Idaho Leads Project has also become active in pseudo-journalism by creating the propaganda page Idaho Ed News. Lead by Swindell, Idaho Ed News hired two Idaho based journalists, Clark Corbin from the Post Falls Register, and Kevin Richert, the opinion page editor from the Idaho Statesman. Corbin was a much less significant hire than Richert, however. While in charge of the election endorsement process during the 2012 elections Richert personally fought for editorial board support of candidates that supported the Luna Laws as well Luna Laws themselves. His support of the Luna agenda was a key factor in his hiring at Idaho Ed News. (more…)