Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Are Taxes Based on a Real Need?...

We had an interesting briefing today with ITD and the Governor's office requesting an increase of $200M for additional needs for "transportation" and $134M for additional (to the$450M already approved) GARVEE funding. This is a hard pill to swallow (as I've written about in previous posts) without understanding the real need and where these funds will and are going towards.

Let's just consider the $200M of "New Money" requested (and by the way, that means additional taxes or fees of $143 per man, woman and child of our state). Some of us are asking how this need was determined. Was it vetted through a public comment process where the public would understand the project and the costs to them of the highways, overpasses or public transport systems being recommended to them?

I'm wondering if we are now in an era where we can use communication tools like the Internet and other tools where the public could be better educated about the costs associated to their choices. If a pollster were to ask me if I would like to have a really nice 6 lane highway, I would likely say "sure!"... but if asked that same question while also telling me that it will cost me another $143 per year for every member of my family for the rest of our lives, I would have to reconsider and ask for other options...

There was some polling of citizens was done prior to the Legislative session asking our folks if they would approve of increased registration fees to add money to our transportation funding, 52% approved of that. I suspect that had they known that the bill they were looking at funding was $200M and their share was $143/person... the results would have come out just a bit differently. I wonder why that wasn't part of the question asked in the poll?...

I don't disagree that ITD needs more funding to meet it's current commitments, I just have to ask if those commitments are really meeting the needs of the people and if the people understand the costs of what they are now signed up for... are those commitments really the requirements?

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Highway Funding... The Governor's Take:

Today we received a copy of a press release from the Governor's office indicating that we in the Legislature are “wringing our hands” when it comes to funding Idaho's Highways. Many of us take issue with that characterization.

Thus far, the ideas that have come from the Executive branch for funding the ITD identified need of an additional $200M/yr have come to a total of about $20M/yr, far short of what that same branch of government is telling the Legislature the need is. The old game of “who’s got the Monkey” comes to mind here…

If we want more funding to be considered, we need to put the Executive Branch cards on the table so we can all see what we are going to play with. The Legislature has the Governor's budget proposal and it doesn't include the extra $200M, or where it should come from. Many of us are not sure just what magic hat that $200M is supposed to be pulled out of...
Getting $200M of new money from 1.4 million Idahoan taxpayers facing an unsure economy, well... you do the math. I think we need to find spending savings and combine that with a number much more feasable to the taxpayers and users.

There are some ideas floating around in the Legislature that might be able to find more money for our Highways, but most of those pull from the pockets of the taxpayers who are the first to feel the "cooling economy". If increased registrations or fuel taxes are the plan, we need to start working on those to see if we can implement those plans, let the people see them and start the dialog.

We had assurances last year that ITD would be doing a better job with the funds that they currently get and I think that they are. They showed us where they were able to find $50M in "savings" from practices that can be changed. However, we don't have the time (or money) to wait for a slow movement to efficiency... we must get a fresh set of eyes on the way we are currently spending ~$700M on our infrastructure to ensure we are delivering the biggest bang for the buck to those that pay the bills.

We are working on a form of a performance audit that will provide the department, Executive and Legislative branches ideas for better operations, policies and spending practices to ensure we are on a track for success. "If we always do, what we've always done, we'll always get what we've always got" my Dad used to say... it's time for a fresh vision and positive change, we can get that from some outside professional eyes.

We need to not only see some more ideas for "finding funds" from the Executive branch that needs it, but we need to ensure that the funds that we are pointing at the roads today are being used where they are needed in the most efficient ways possible.

Those that are "first in line" to feel a "cooling economy" are the taxpaying citizens of Idaho. Some seem to forget that while the State's revenue to be spent will suffer, it must be considered "second in line" when it comes to the "cooling economy".

We must remember that it's always easier to say we need more money than it is to find ways to get it, and especially in a "cooling economy" that’s a bit more than a “bump in the road”. The economy is the basis for the collections of taxes from business and our citizens; State’s spending must be controlled to match the economy, not the other way around.

The taxpayers of Idaho expect that if they are going to be pulling more coin out of their pockets for transportation that it will be used wisely... and we must deliver that to them.

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Right to Hunt, Fish and Trap...

In Idaho we have come to depend on hunting, fishing and trapping as a main form of control and management of species that the state is charged with managing. These actives not only provide that management and control opportunity, but provide economic and social benefits as well.

The economic benefit of these activities exceeds $5 billion each year in terms of stimulus of our local economies. Many rural communities are very dependant on those that visit their stores, hotels and cafes while partaking in these various activities.

Socially, our forefathers depended on the land to provide them subsistence and routinely this was a family or community activity that brought people closer together. Families still get together for fishing or hunting vacations that bonds those that are involved forever. Some of the fondest memories of my life were experienced with Moms and Dads, Aunts and Uncles and brothers and sisters while in the field hunting or fishing. These activities are an important cultural event that ties us together as Idahoans and has for generations.

I have worked with many people over the past few years trying to find a way to ensure that these activities will be protected for as long as we call this land Idaho. Hunting, fishing and trapping currently is not a right of the people, it's a privilege that is allowed by our state government.

In Europe and Asia, these privileges are now reserved for only the rich or the select few or not allowed at all. Those countries no longer have the cultural experiences that help to tie them to their lands and to their cultures because their governments have taken these privileges away.

I have introduced a bill,
HJR002 (this is the 3rd bill I've been involved with) that will provide for the people of Idaho to vote in November on a state constitutional amendment that will create Hunting, Fishing and Trapping as a right of the people that will be treated like our 2nd amendment rights that can not be taken away except in cases where the individual has violated the trust of the state.

Of course, the state will still have management control over how these activities happen but if we ever experience a "perfect storm" of legislators and a governor that decides that these activities are no longer needed by "the state" we could loose these privileges like those countries that don't have protections.

Your thoughts?...