Added Information for Coeur d'Alene Press Questionnaire, published April 15, 2016:
The Coeur d'Alene Press published a candidate questionnaire in today's paper, asking 12 important questions but requiring candidates to answer with only a Yes, No or Uncertain. These 12 issues cannot be adequately evaluated with one word, so here are my expanded thoughts on each point. I will state the CdA Press question first, followed by my answer:
- Raise the minimum wage? --No. We all want people to get ahead, but any particular job is only worth a certain amount to a business. If an employee wants to make more money, they need to increase the responsibility they take and make themselves more valuable to the business. If that's not possible, the employee should get more education or a skills certification and get a different job. When wages are artificially inflated by government mandate it hurts everyone, especially low income folks, by the inevitable increase in prices following forced wage hikes. It can also cause a decrease in working hours and benefits as a business tries to balance their increased costs while trying to stay cost-competitive in their market. As a small business co-owner for 31 years, we have always paid more than minimum wage, even for our entry level jobs. Most businesses realize that good employees are a great value for their business.
- Add the words? --Not until religious expression is protected as well. There must be a balance. Leadership in the Senate has worked with the LGBT folks to come up with compromise language for adding the words while still protecting others, but an agreement was not found this year.
- Fund private / religious education? --There's language in the state constitutions of most Western states which restricts public money from benefitting any religious school. That language was required when the Western states were applying for statehood back in the 1800s. (It's called a Blaine amendment) It was actually discriminatory because it was rooted in fear of and disdain for Catholic and Mormon groups. Most states in the Eastern US, along with Washington DC, don't have that language in their state constitutions because they were already established before this fear based movement. Those states are able to offer vouchers and other funding for optional private education. Washington DC's voucher program, for example, is highly successful. Here in Idaho, we could benefit from an Educational Savings Account (ESA) program which allows a percentage of the state's education funding for a student to go into that child's ESA and gives the parents (taxpayers) the right to use the money for educational purposes. This would only be for students not participating in public education, and there would be careful controls and accountability requirements needed. Research has shown these programs do not hurt traditional public schools, and, in fact, can be a benefit. But right now it is not considered legally possible because of Idaho's restrictive Blaine amendment.
- Increase gun rights? --Yes. We just passed "permitless" carry legislation, which allows Idaho citizens over the age of 21 to carry a concealed weapon inside city limits without a permit. This is not a big change because it was already legal outside city limits, and there are still the same restrictions for schools, college campuses, courthouses, etc, with a list of disqualifications for criminal histories, mental illness, etc. What is needed now, and what I am working on with other legislators, is an optional, easily accessible gun safety training component.
- Increase abortion rights? --No. We passed a bill requiring any abortion provider to give each woman seeking an abortion a list of free ultrasound clinics. The list will be compiled and updated by the Idaho Dept. of Health and Welfare, and the abortion clinic must wait 24 hours to give the mother a chance to see the ultrasound of her baby. We also passed a bill making the sale of aborted body parts illegal in Idaho.
- Increase education spending? --Yes, but with clear plans and accountability measures. Funding for k-12 increased 7.4% this year and higher education was up 8%. I sit on the Senate Education Committee, where we facilitated some exciting innovations: Professional Technical Education, now known as Career Technical Education, is greatly expanding their program offerings to help meet the backlog of both students waiting to enroll as well as industries ready to hire skilled and certified employees. We also approved an Innovation Schools pilot project for 10 traditional public schools to use alternative and creative teaching methods highly successful in other states. STEM education, which is science, technology, engineering and math, got a big boost, as did early learning with a focus on reading proficiency by the end of 3rd grade. Studies have shown reading well by this age is critical to future success, so we passed the Literacy bill to underscore this need. An important new resource, Rural School Centers, was planned and prepared for next session. These centers will help smaller rural districts share resources, such as specialized personnel, and offer cost savings through buying supplies in larger quantities. On my the weekly conference call with District Superintendents from North Idaho during the session, they were very excited about these rural resource centers.
- Increase Medicaid coverage? --No not Medicaid, which is historically one of the worst health care delivery systems. It's not good for patients because they have long waits to see a doctor, and the doctors lose money with each Medicaid appointment, so patients often see a different doctor each time. The proposed PCAP program, which would have funded patients going to local health clinics, didn't pass the legislature this year. I'd like to see a Health Savings Account (HSA) coupled with catastrophic insurance coverage. Then the patient can decide where to spend their health care dollars.
- Increase spending for highways and bridges?-- We voted in a large transportation tax last session. I did not support the bill because it was literally pushed through after midnight on the last day of the session, which is not good public policy process. It was a pure taxation bill, with no balancing offset of tax relief for those most in need.
- Provide more economic development incentives? --As a state, we give away many incentives already. I worked on shoring up Urban Renewal, which is most definitely an economic incentive, and now it is more accountable to the taxpayers while still working as an effective tool for cities.
- Control some Federal lands?-- Yes. Right now in Idaho it can be clearly proven that State forest lands are healthy and managed well, while Federally controlled lands are in poor condition and ripe for fires. We used to control more of our forests and the money from responsible logging on the lands brought important revenues that went to education.
- Adopt a flat income tax?-- Yes. Flat tax or Fair tax--we need to move in that direction with a plan and a timeline. A better tax system will help the people of Idaho and attract more and better jobs.
- Should the 17th amendment be repealed?-- Not at this time.