To hear Idaho’s lawmakers tell it, your city councilors, county commissioners and school board members are a bunch of dopes.
They can’t be trusted.
So the adults in the Statehouse have to step in and curtail their worst impulses.
Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, says school boards should stop bothering voters with failed projects. Counties should do the same when it comes to asking for new jails. If the voters reject a bond issue, that should be the end of it for 11 months. Never mind if the first measure failed to clear the two-thirds majority by one or two votes. Never mind if the school is unsafe. Who cares if inmates are sleeping on the floor of an overcrowded jail? So what if the voters want to reconsider?
The Legislature knows best. So said 48 of the 70 House members, including all six of those representing north central Idaho, who passed Scott’s bill and sent it on to the Senate.
But if that’s such a good idea for city halls, courthouses and schools, why not try it at the state Capitol?
For instance, lawmakers burned up weeks last year fighting over whether to severely curtail the ability of citizens to pass their own laws through the initiative process. Gov. Brad Little ended up vetoing it.
They also spent an enormous amount of energy trying to undermine the voter-passed Medicaid expansion initiative with a work requirement. Pending approval from the feds and the courts, that provision remains unenforceable.
Using Scott’s logic, how about giving us all a breather? Once an issue is settled in the first year of a legislative term, leave it alone during the second. How much less time would lawmakers spend in Boise if they weren’t so eager to refight the last war?
Then there’s House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star.
He thinks local units of government tax and spend too much money. So Moyle would either freeze or curtail substantially what local units of government could raise from the property tax. But Moyle’s colleagues have refused to give most communities any alternative to the property tax.
If any group of individuals could use a bit of supervision on tax writing, it’s Idaho’s lawmakers. They’re constantly changing the income tax code — often without being fully cognizant of the consequences. So why not require Idaho’s income tax to conform entirely with the federal version? Take the matter entirely out of the state’s hands. Let the professionals in Washington, D.C., handle it.
(Idaho typically does conform its income tax with the federal version, but here’s betting the idea will look a good less appealing to lawmakers if it’s President Bernie Sanders’ administration writing the rules.)
There’s the Legislature’s long, sad record of shifting the cost of state programs to the locals. Case in point: the overflow of state prison inmates. County jails are holding almost 1,100 of them.
What the state pays does not cover the counties’ costs. For instance, Nez Perce County estimates it costs $101.28 to hold an inmate per day. The state now covers $55 per inmate per day for the first week and $75 per inmate per day after that.
To save $1.5 million, the state proposes to reimburse the county a flat $60 per day and then $65 per day next year.
So Nez Perce County would end up subsidizing the state prison system to the tune of at least $145,000 a year.
Nobody is losing more money at the moment than the federal treasury. How about having the state pick up a greater share of administering child support enforcement or national forest firefighting?
Then there is the proud tradition of state lawmakers preempting local authority. House Transportation Committee Chairman Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, has been flirting with the idea of blocking cities from imposing texting bans on drivers. That would extend a trend that includes prohibiting cities from banning plastic bags, from raising the local minimum wage or even requiring anyone 18 or older from at least getting some training and undergoing a criminal background check before carrying a concealed weapon.
Two can play that game.
Idaho could no longer look the other way — in many cases — when drivers refuse to wear a seat belt. If it does, the feds will stop supplying highway funds.
You can hear the complaints now.
Imposing top-down, cookie-cutter mandates is no way to run the country, they’d say.
Government is best when it’s closest to the people, they’d say.
And they’d be right.— M.T.