"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" Emma Lazarus
While things were eerily quiet this past week, we did conduct important budget presentations and are seeing the steady ramping up of legislation.
I am proud to co-sponsor a resolution introduced this week by my colleague Rep. Hy Kloc that recognizes Idaho's commitment to the core American values represented by the Statute of Liberty. Rep. Kloc gave compelling testimony about his own family's journey to Ellis Island and the inspirational power of that lifted lamp as a universal symbol of hope and freedom.
Another measure I added my name to as a co-sponsor is a bill that would incrementally raise the minimum wage from $7.25/hr to $8.25/hr this year and $9.25/hr in 2017. Despite widespread support from Idahoans (70% polled want a $10/hr minimum), the Chairman of the Senate State Affairs Committee will not allow a public hearing. When we are confronted with an issue that impacts our citizenry (over 5% of whom earn minimum wage or less), we have an obligation to provide a public forum for an open conversation.
For this reason, I want to commend Senator Lee Heider, Chairman of the Senate Health & Welfare Committee, for agreeing to hold a public hearing on Senator Dan Schmidt's Healthy Idaho bills (S1204, S1205). Senator Schmidt is a medical doctor who has worked diligently to craft legislation extending Medicaid eligibility to Idahoans with incomes below 138% of the poverty level. This move would provide coverage to the 78,000 individuals with no health care insurance while saving the state and counties nearly $44 million. The public is invited to participate in the hearing on Tuesday, Feb. 2 at 3:00 p.m. in Capitol room WW54 or listen in to the audio feed (large turnout could force a room change to the Lincoln Auditorium).
On the budget front, Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra presented her public schools budget to JFAC on Thursday. Supt. Ybarra came very well prepared to outline and defend her request of a 7.5% increase for a total FY2017 public schools budget of nearly $1.578 billion. For those wanting more detail, I refer you to the always thorough Idaho Education News website. On Friday, Dwight Johnson, Administrator for state Professional-Technical Education warned of a gap in Idaho's workforce estimated at 63,000 jobs by 2025. Governor Otter recommended a 10.4% increase in general fund for IPTE in FY2017.
This week, the governor requested $6.5 million in additional one-time funding for aquifer recharge for a total of $16.5 million and boosted spending on water sustainability from $2 million to $5 million annually. Having heard recently from the head of the Idaho Water Resources Board that all but two of Idaho's aquifers are threatened, and knowing the full extent of the water issues confronting the Wood River Valley, I support this increased funding.
Idaho 2020 is a newly-formed, non-profit think tank comprised of state business leaders. They just released the results of an economic study comparing Idaho to 7 competing states in our region and found Idaho falling behind in key economic investment areas: municipal financing options; infrastructure development; urban renewal flexibility and lower tax rates. Idaho 2020 also conducted a public opinion poll in November that shows nearly half of Idahoans believe better education is the key to economic vitality and job growth. This Idaho Statesman article provides links to the group's survey and white paper.
Representatives Donna Pence and Steve Miller and I invite you to attend our Town Hall Meetings next weekend for an overview of the 2016 legislative session and to raise questions about issues important to you.
Feb. 12 5:30 p.m. - Ketchum City Hall
Feb. 13 8:00 a.m. - Bellevue General Store
10:30 a.m. - Shoshone Community Center
12:00 p.m. - Gooding, Zeppies Pizza
2:00 p.m. - Wendell City Hall
4:00 p.m. - Hagerman City Hall