"Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success." -Henry Ford
Yesterday we inaugurated a new President of the United States. I know some have felt divided, some have felt more united than ever, but my job in our state's capitol is to be a voice of reason when I represent the values of all my constituents. And so my work continues, and my responsibility to Idahoans and The Constitution serve as my sense of purpose.
Earlier this week the governor issued an executive order enacting the Cybersecurity Task Force recommendations, which include the creation of a Director of Information Security. This is a critical step for Idaho, as cybersecurity becomes a growing threat with each passing day. We've already been hit in Idaho, and having a plan to protect Idahoans is a top priority.
the governor also created a task force to study ways to improve Idaho's funding and delivery of training programs to meet growing employer demand for skilled workers. New job growth is projected at 138,000 but the looming mass-retirement of the baby boomer generation means we are looking at a workforce shortage of about 49,000 workers with necessary skills to fill those jobs. Recommendations from the Workforce Development Task Force are due by July 1 so we can make statutory changes by the 2018 legislative session.
House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding and I hosted a telephone town hall last week with over 1,900 participants! We had great conversations and had the opportunity to run some polls. The listeners agreed overwhelmingly that closing the health care gap was the most pressing issue they'd like to see the legislature address this year. The Annual Idaho Public Survey by Boise State University's School of Public Service ranks health care as a top priority of Idahoans, too. We have legislation in the works and are urging majority leadership toward a solution that fits Idaho best and keeps our communities healthy.
We also had a poll asking what Idahoans would like us to do with the budget surplus. Investing in transportation and education were top priorities. This was not surprising, as the state is $260 million behind on transportation infrastructure maintenance. We have yet to see anything that will address these critical needs, and as we watch Idaho's roads and bridges crumble, we know it's time we get this done before the cost grows even higher. As Governor Otter said, "deferred maintenance is deficit spending".
My colleagues in the House, Representative Sally Toone (D-26), Representative Paulette Jordan (D-5) and the entire Democratic Caucus proposed legislation to grant student loan forgiveness to rural teachers in effort to address the critical shortage of teachers in rural Idaho. I cosponsored the same bill last year and I still believe it's a workable solution for a real problem that our rural communities face. I am pleased to be a cosponsor again, and will do what I can to move the bill forward. The Idaho Constitution requires us to provide free common education to every Idaho student, and I know this bill will help get us there.
These beginning weeks in the legislature are mostly filled with administrative rules review and gubernatorial appointments, as required by the constitution. Soon we'll begin focusing more on legislation and appropriations.
Every year we do a tour of the district to speak with our constituents and listen to the issues that matter most to you. We are still finalizing locations, but the dates are February 10th and 11th. We will keep you posted in future newsletters as soon as we get venues confirmed.
I hope you are staying warm in this cold snowy spell. As always, feel free to contact me with questions or concerns by phone or email.