The definition of ethics from Dictionary.com:
1. ( used with a singular or plural verb ) a system of moral principles: the ethics of a culture.
2. the rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular class of human actions or a particular group, culture, etc.: medical ethics; Christian ethics.
I place ethics first because the people have lost faith in their government. Without fundamental ethics reform there is no trust that the actions of state government are intended for the benefit of the people.
Since I entered the state Senate in 2003 the ethical culture has deteriorated. It's been a steady decline starting with the ouster of Sen. Noble for proposing legislation to benefit himself without disclosure to the use of legislative privilege by Rep. Hart to avoid the day of reckoning for his federal and state tax debts, to the improper claiming of out of town per diem payments by a few Senators, to the resignation of a senator for alleged sexual harassment, to the (now common) practice of proposing self-serving legislation (usually with disclosure).
I wish it would end there, but it doesn't. Just in the last few years within the Executive Branch we've witnessed a Tax Commission Chairman (Royce Chigbrow) forced to resign for using his position to benefit a friend in a dispute with a taxpayer combined with the failure to pursue timely charges of criminal activity by a Republican prosecutor who missed filing charges because of a statute of limitation that expired In addition, we saw Treasurer Ron Crane using $9,000 of taxpayer (your) money to squire family and legislators around New York City in limousines. And we haven't even discussed the unchecked revolving door of high placed insiders becoming lobbyists that continues and accelerates.
You might ask how this culture developed. The answer is simple - one party has controlled all power in state government for over two decades. We've all heard the saying that absolute power corrupts absolutely. In Idaho we have an example.
I want to stress that this is not a partisan issue. In other states where Democrats have been in control for decades the same issues arise. This is a human issue created by the sense of entitlement that comes with unchecked power and inside dealings.
So what can we do? The answer is easy - REFORM!
Since 2005 (following the Noble case) Idaho Democrats have been trying to work with Republicans to reform the ethics laws in Idaho (they are some of the weakest in the country). In all that time and with many bills we've managed only once to get anything passed in the Senate. That was a VERY weak financial disclosure bill that was blocked by House leaders without a hearing.
In the 2012 legislative session I authored five ethics bills and pushed for two others. These bills were:
I applaud leadership in the legislature for instituting ethics training for both incoming freshman legislators (during orientation) and for the entire legislature (just after the legislature convenes in January). It's heartening to know that leaders in the legislature recognize that there are problems. I hope that we can take the next steps together by passing laws to properly define the ethical culture we wish to see in Idaho state government.
Ethics is an important issue and I will continue to push for fundamental ethics reform in state government.
methods to enhance student performance and modernize our education system. I hope that the legislature respects the will of the people and allows the professionals to work without undue political interference.
At the college level we must develop a statewide system of community colleges (thank goodness for CWI), avoid duplication of efforts in our university system, demand results from our universities, provide need-based financial aid (thanks to the Opportunity scholarship), restore the dramatic cuts that left our colleges with funding levels not seen since 2000, and progressively lower the cost of a college education so its within reach of the middle class again.
Public education is the key to a civil society and a thriving economy. Actions such as the 2006 tax shift that took local property tax support from schools and led to the current historic decline in funding are contrary to a prosperous Idaho with a 21st century economy.Jobs and the Economy
Idaho's economy is a dismal mess. With no real vision from our state leaders the economy has wandered aimlessly without any real diversification. With a paper thin high tech industry we are exposed to the whims of the global marketplace. Our colleges are slashed and the brain drain from Idaho is noticeable. Unemployment currently hovers around 8% overall (much worse in many counties) and low pay is the norm.
In the vacuum left in the statehouse the Idaho Democrat's have twice stepped up and laid out a vision of prosperity and opportunity for Idaho backed by a comprehensive plan to quickly create jobs. The second Idaho Jobs and Opportunity Blueprint (IJOBs 2.0) proposed last legislative session consisted of six (6) pieces of legislation that aim to turn unemployment checks into paychecks.
I pledge to you that I will keep working for a better Idaho. One with a 21st century economy that provides opportunity for our citizens. An Idaho where our children go to world class schools, head to college in large numbers, and stay in Idaho for fulfilling and high wage careers.
Tools like local option authority for public transportation and roads, infrastructure for biking and walking to reduce traffic and air pollution, support for a pragmatic emissions testing system in both Ada and Canyon counties, management of residential rentals, law enforcement policy that makes us safer, and community-based treatment for mental health and substance abuse issues.
Residential home values rose four times faster than any other property classes from 2000 to 2007. To address this the legislature in 2006 passed a $25,000 increase in the Homeowner's Exemption (to $75,000). Fortunately I worked with others to get the exemption indexed to the price of houses. This allowed the exemption to increase to over $100,000 a few years ago before falling back to $82,000 this coming year (resulting from the decrease in house prices).
More importantly, in 2006 then Governor Risch and the legislative majority figured it was pay back time to the special interests (they saw the increase in the Homeowner's Exemption as a shift of taxes on to them - it wasn't). They passed a bill that raised the sales tax 20% to pay for removing the property tax funding for public schools (2/3rds of the cut went to properties other than owner occupied homes). Since almost 70% of sales tax is paid by individuals (remember all those exemptions for special interests) you now pay annually for the tax cut that primarily benefited the special interests.
The gap between what the property tax for schools would have collected and what the sales tax brings in has grown from $50 million in 2006 to over $300 million per year today. That' over $300 million less to educate our children every year . As I predicted in 2006, this tax shift led to a drastic reduction in state support for our schools. Now after deep cuts to public schools and property tax increases in over 2/3rds of Idaho school districts it's now obvious that the 2006 tax shift was both foolish and shortsighted!
We must reduce property taxes for homeowners and seniors - not special interests. This means an increase in the Homeowner's Exemption to $150,000. I have sponsored bills to accomplish this since 2007 and will continue my efforts.
With an mid-20th century tax code Idaho is primed to remain an mid-20th century economy. Special interests rule the roost and pick the pockets of Idaho citizens and of our economy for over $1 billion each year. This year the legislature gave $35 million to the top 18% of wage earners - picking your pocket once again to reward their supporters. This madness must come to an end!
For the last eight years I've submitted legislation to require the expiration of all tax exemptions so that every special interest is required to come before the people and justify their special tax treatment. If the exemption makes sense (creates jobs, enhances our economy, or simply makes good sense) then we can keep it. If it doesn't, then we scrap it and dedicate those funds to building a 21st century economy or lowering the overall tax rate.
The tax on food must be eliminated! We are one of only eight states that tax food. This is a punishing tax on our lower and fixed income families. Increasing the food tax credit is not enough it's a half measure. Idahoan's need relief at the cash register . We must eliminate the tax on food now and forever.
Caring for your health and treatment for illness is a basic human right. This right is not available for hundreds of thousands of Idahoans who can't afford health insurance. And for those that can, high deductibles and outrageously expensive prescription medications often lead to doing without.
Allowing small businesses to purchase healthcare through the state plan, supporting local health clinics, and providing seed money for community-based substance abuse and mental health clinics are just a few ways the state can have a positive impact in healthcare. Sadly while the majority rails against the federal law there is no plan or action to improve the dismal situation in Idaho.
Up to 85% of inmates in the state prison system have a substance abuse or mental health condition. Our state prisons are the top provider of substance abuse and mental health treatment in the state. And, at a cost of $25,000/year and added state services for families left behind and impoverished, that's just plain dumb on crime!
In addition, a legislative audit directed by the committee that I co-chair (JLOC) found that a lack of coordination between the Department of Corrections and the Commission on Pardons and Parole keeps people in prison longer and unnecessarily costs our citizens about $3 million/year! You can read the report and the responses of the agencies and the governor at http://www.legislature.idaho.gov/ope/publications/reports/r1002.pdf.
As a state we need to ensure that the people that we place in prison represent a substantial threat to society. If a person has a mental health or substance abuse issue, the answer is usually not incarceration. The answer is treatment.
We must reform our corrections system to incarcerate those individuals that represent a threat to society while developing alternatives for nonviolent offenders that require treatment, training, or behavior modification.
The time has come for our legislature to be smart on crime and stop wasting our precious tax dollars.