Saturday, June 6, 2009

Fire Ops 101...

I was invited by Capt Tyler Roundtree of the Meridian Fire Dept to attend their first attempt at putting on a training program called Fire Ops 101. This program is used in the Tri-Cities area to train elected officials and press on the daily challenges our first responders face on a daily basis.

While most of us have a hard time carving out a few days in June to drive to this training, it was especially hard this year due to our extended session. All of us legislators are now trying to catch up on work and the "honey-do" lists that have been put on the back burner. Having Fire Ops 101 done locally was a real blessing for those of us that were able to attend so we could get this important training allowing us a glimpse into their daily work lives.

Meridian has a great training center to do this training, a 4 story brick building with rooms for fire training, smoke rescue training and even law enforcement training. A 6 story tower enables stairwell and repelling training as well. They have an outside flash over demonstration room (3 walls and roof) where you can see a typical room start on fire and then watch as the fire progresses and how quickly it moves (doubling in size every 45 to 60 seconds!).

In the picture above, I was clean and just getting ready... that changed very quickly. Lots of soot and working on your knees or bent over to stay under the heat and smoke of the burning room. We had to haul hoses into the "house" around corners and to the fire or to the point were we could provide safety for those who's turn it was to attack the fire. Wearing their "turnouts" (the typical fire fighting pants and overcoat) was at first very enlightening, then challenging... between those and the Scott air packs we used, the total weight was an additional 60 lbs at least! Adding that extra weight to the activities along with the great insulating factor provided by the turnouts made for a very hot working environment... I can't ever remember drinking so much water and sweating so hard, and I've sweated in some very strange places in this world! We were blessed that the outside temps had dropped to ~75'... I can only imagine doing this in 90' or 100' temps!

Next, Natalie Hurst (Channel 2 News Anchor) and I had the "pleasure" of hauling out a 24' ladder that enabled us to climb to a roof over a burning fire with a running chainsaw to cut out a hole enabling venting of that fire below. This venting provided a safer environment for those below fighting the fire. After climbing down, we were directed to climb a 100' ladder to the top of the 4 story building and simulate doing a "recon" of a building for things that the firefighting team should know about.

Thankfully, between all of these events we were able to recharge with water and Gatorade... a cool down period is necessary for these guys (and us) as one would quickly fall to heat stroke without some cool water and venting the heat out of the turnouts. We each had a fire fighter that was assigned as our "shadow" to make sure we didn't do anything stupid, ensure our safety and to answer any questions we might have. Chris was my shadow and did an excellent job of teaching me about the little things that could/would get me hurt if I wasn't paying attention.

After cooling down, we headed to a simulated car accident where we were trained and used the jaws of life to cut off a roof and take out the window of a car, pull out victims, put them on a backboard, do CPR and then discussed the impact of EMS services with the a local St. Lukes Emerg room doctor and advisor to the Meridian forces about EMS impacts to saving lives.

... cool down (needed, these jaws of life tools weight about 60-80 lbs and are not easy to manipulate quickly in heavy/hot gear)... but it was cool tearing apart the car in just a couple minutes!

We then were directed to the 3rd floor where a typical room was set up with 2 victims that were downed with smoke. This room was so full of smoke, even on our knees, we could not see anything... not even our hands in front of the air pack mask. We were taught how to go into a room without getting lost and stay together and do a search for the victims and then bring them out. From my point of view, this was the hardest task of the day. I led in first with my partner from the Idaho Statesman at my side while we both searched a room in the dark for victims. I missed the first one, just never felt the body and kept searching until we found a "child" across the room. We drug him out, again while not getting lost from where our exit was and I was exhausted... only to be told we had a second victim and had to get back in there and find them! My Statesman partner led the way this time and we quickly found the adult to drag out... holly smokes, this dude was heavy! Again, with the added weight of the equipment we were wearing and the weight of the bodies (dummies) we were towing out, made for a tough activity.

While we were doing these various training programs, the on duty fire fighters were called out on a fire... to my surprise no one missed a beat, everything just went on as normal. I was amazed at how well coordinated these folks are. All of the folks doing the training were off duty and came in on their own time to put this program together. They knew the on-duty folks could handle the call and never blinked... that's the trust they have in one another.

Personally, I'm glad I did this here at our Meridian facility. Not only did I learn about the various issues our men and women face daily, but I learned about coordination efforts between our Treasure Valley EMS programs from Boise to Nampa and how everyone works together, but also some of the continued challenges that we still face and need to overcome. I doubt that I would have gained that vision by going to the Fire Ops training in the Tri-Cities.

I gained a increased appreciation for what these folks do for us day to day, most of the time going unnoticed by most of us as "just business as usual". It's never "business as usual" for them and it shouldn't be for us. If you see one of our first responders heading for "work" give them room and a wave and let them know you too appreciate what they do for our city.

Thanks to Chief Ron Anderson, Capt Tyler Roundtree, Chris and all the fire fighters that gave up your time with your families to give us a peak into your world...

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Fruit is Ripe, but...

... the market just won't support the picking.

Many times we refer to legislation as being like fruit, it's either ripe and ready to harvest (pass) or it's just "not ripe" (good idea, but not quite ready yet). We have a very different case this legislative session, the "fruit is ripe, but the economic conditions don't warrant or support the picking."

I believe most House members feel a good case has been made for more funding of some type to ensure proper maintenance and preservation of our transportation investment needs to be done. The issue, is and has been, that we are in a recession (close to depression) where raising taxes is just not a prudent move for the folks trying to make ends meet and recover. We must consider the residents of Idaho before we consider increasing funding state government with their money.

The House has respected each and every VETO the Governor has presented us on bills that we (both the House and Senate) thought were in the best interest of the State. We would expect the same respect for our votes, based on the input from our constituents on new gas taxes.

We all know that the need is there, we also know that our folks are telling us that now is just not the time. We have done our best to reflect the desires of the majority of the folks we represent, now it's time to finish the business of the State and quit spending the people's money for no reason other than political posturing. We see no reason to continue down a road with no end, as the Governor has spoken with his stamp, so has the House with their votes on fuel taxes. It's time to move on and consider alternatives.

We worked hard and long today to ensure we provided the Senate and the Governor with everything they need to wrap up this session. We have provided alternatives, some in the bills we've sent to the Senate that are either still pending or that we sent today for transportation. Does it reach the bar the Governor set? No, and we all know that... sometimes you just have to accept the fact that even though you believe the fruit is ripe, it just might not be a good season to pick.

The House has completed the work required for operation of the State during the worst economy since WWII. We believe spending anymore of the people's money to keep us here for taxes that we all just can't agree upon would be a waste of their hard earned money. We've decided it's time to move on instead of trying to pick fruit that just won't sell.

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Highway Funding, is it a Critical Issue?

You be the judge... Current funding for 2010 for Idaho's Roads:

$508 Million (2009 spending authorization for 2009 was $492 million)
$297 million in unspent money from the Connecting Idaho Fund
$191 million in Federal "stimulus" money
$82 million additional bonding authority for GARVEE
$36 million in GARVEE cost savings from 2009
$18 million in additional funding through the elimination of the ethanol gas exemption
$17 million in discretionary "stimulus" funding

$1.250 Billion available to Idaho road managers in 2010 (almost twice what it had in 2009) for road projects and preservation and maintenance.

The budget provided to the House for ITD has road project funding that was twice that of preservation and maintenance, a 2:1 ratio of building over preserving.

Every penny of increase fuel taxes gains ~$4.4 million to the Highway Distribution Account (HDA), so the recent 6 cent increase amended by the Senate on the House bill to eliminate the ethanol exemption would have added an additional $26.4 million. The House voted down this amendment for a multitude of reasons, but mostly because we are in an economy where adding tax burdens on our citizens was just not appropriate.

While it appears we are more than flush with funding for ITD for the current budget year under consideration, it just would not be prudent to increase taxes on citizens already being taxed at a rate of being the 13th highest in the nation per capita.

We are already putting our tax Dollars in the state's "bank", they just aren't going to the correct accounts.

The state and local road managers have in excess of $300 million more than last year to address the state's transportation needs as outlined by the governor. The "stimulus funds" can also be used for preservation and maintenance, yet none of those funds were dedicated to that effort... why? Idahoans will see a record number of highway projects undertaken this year and into the next to address road maintenance and preservation needs, bridge repair and replacement as well as interstate congestion. Anyone indicating that the House has "done nothing to improve the current conditions" is just dead wrong.

Do we have a funding crisis for Idaho roads for 2010? You be the judge... let me know your thoughts.


Wednesday, April 1, 2009

A new way to pay for our roads?...

We have passed a bill out of the House that has the potential to add a very valuable tool to the State's toolbox of items available to them to pay for our infrastructure. Besides taxes and fees, we have the ability for ITD to "earn" some of the funds they need without competing with business. A reporter from the Lewiston Tribune seemed to be one of the first to understand the potential, he writes:

BOISE - Last November, about the time Congress switched from billion-dollar to trillion-dollar bailouts, one of the more intelligent government money-making operations in recent years came to an end.
That was when, with minimum fanfare, the last of the 50 state quarters hit the market.
I don't know who dreamed up that project, but it was one of those ideas that makes you smack your forehead and wonder why nobody thought of it earlier. It was brilliant in its simplicity: Produce 50 new quarters honoring each of the 50 states, roll them out over a 10-year period, then stand back as coin collectors go into a numismatic feeding frenzy.
Before the program began in 1999, the U.S. Mint produced about 1.5 billion quarters per year. Since then, according to the Congressional Budget Office, production has more than doubled, to an average of 3.5 billion per year - an increase worth about $350 million in annual net profits, or $3.5 billion over the life of the program.
The project was such a hit, the mint plans to follow it up this year with quarters honoring the District of Columbia and five American territories (Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands and the Northern Marianas Islands). A decade-long project featuring quarters for various national parks will begin in 2010.
That kind of aggressive pursuit of market opportunities isn't typical of state or federal governments - for good reason. One wouldn't want monopolistic taxing entities, for example, to be influenced by profit motives.
However, the state quarters project demonstrates capitalism and government can occasionally combine to benefit taxpayers.
Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, is hoping to create a similar opportunity for Idaho.
Hagedorn, 53, grew up on a farm near Moscow. His folks and a sister still live in the area. He graduated from Potlatch High School, but it was working for the Potlatch Corp. lumber mill that changed his life.
"That's what made me decide to join the Navy," he said. "I was working the line next to guys who were missing two or three fingers, and the highlight of the night was when we'd throw knots at each other. I told myself I had to go somewhere."
Hagedorn retired in 1994, after 20 years in the service. Now, during his second term in the Legislature, he's hoping to turn Idaho into the U.S. Mint of commercial truck license plates.
Unlike personal vehicles, commercial trucks and tractor-trailers can be licensed and registered in any state, regardless of where a company is based. That, to Hagedorn, creates a marketing opportunity. He introduced a bill earlier this session that would encourage trucking firms to register their fleets here.
"I've been working on this for a few years," he said. "My objective is to find a resource the state has that would help relieve the tax burden on citizens, without competing with private businesses - and this is a great opportunity."
Idaho already offers a permanent plate that doesn't require yearly registration renewals. For a company like Wal-Mart, which has more than 50,000 tractor-trailers, eliminating paperwork and the need to match specific trailers with specific renewal stickers represents a substantial cost-savings, Hagedorn said.
Idaho law, however, currently requires out-of-state truckers to pay sales tax on the price of the trailer before they can buy the permanent plate. That makes it cost-prohibitive.
Hagedorn's bill would remove the sales tax requirement. Moreover, it authorizes the creation of special "business logo" license plates - meaning Wal-Mart or UPS or any other company could design their own plates, complete with corporate logo and marketing slogan.
"Everyone is looking to save a buck," Hagedorn said. "We can make this simple for corporations and help save them money just by changing state law. It costs $3 to make a license plate, and we'd sell them for $112. There are 5.6 million semi-trailers in the United States. That's a $627 million market."
Add in Canadian trucks, he said, and the market potential climbs to $1 billion.
"Imagine if we get just 10 percent of that," Hagedorn said. "In the past, we've looked at taxpayers within our border (to generate state revenue). This could bring in revenue from outside the state. There are opportunities out there. We just need to find them."
Hagedorn's bill is scheduled for a floor vote in the House this morning. If approved, it will move on to the Senate.

House bill H226 is now awaiting scheduling to be heard in the Senate Transportation Committee. It went through the House State Affairs and Transportation and Defense Committees as well as the House floor with out a single "nay" vote. I believe this is a great tool and could bring in millions that could off-set taxes we now pay.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Roads and Your $$$$...

I've talked before about how our Highway Distribution Account (HDA) works and the taxes we pay that go into it, fuel and registration taxes. The Federal fuel taxes also flow into our HDA that we use to take care of our road, air and rail transportation infrastructure.

I used to believe that all taxes went into a big bucket and were doled out by the politicians based on their power and who they needed to get votes from... I've had a lot of tax education from those days and know that's not the case. In Idaho, most taxes are user fees related to the use of the infrastructure involved in that activity.

There are no general fund taxes used for transportation. General funds come from sales tax, individual income tax (these two alone comprise about 90% of state general funds), corporate tax and other misc fees. These General funds are then spread out over Health and Welfare, Education (K-12 and Higher Ed), Corrections, Veterans Services... the list goes on. They are not used for the Department of Fish and Game or the Department of Transportation, these two departments use only what are called "dedicated funds" that come from user fees or taxes and federal funds based upon user fees or taxes.

Because of the reduction in sales taxes and personal income, revenue for the General fund is down, thus funds available for those departments will also be down, their budgets reduced.

The Department of Transportation has experienced inflation costs with building materials over many years without us addressing their revenue stream (fuel taxes and registration fees). We requested a Performance Audit last year that revealed some things that the department and the legislature needed to do in order to ensure we got the biggest bang for the buck in the future.

We do need to make some adjustments in the revenue provided to ITD so that they can better plan maintenance and preservation activities as well as do those activities. They are currently in the mode of fixing "worst first" and not doing preventive maintenance due to the lack of funding available. They do not have a preventive maintenance planning program for our roads that went by the wayside when getting a new financial software system. They need some new software tools to be able to better schedule and perform preventive work instead of being reactive only to work as our infrastructure fails.

Now the big question: How much do they need? There are quite a few numbers being kicked around and how to create that revenue from various forms of increased fees and taxes. Some of those forms take 5 years to implement, some only 1 year. We have heard from a number of lobbyist's, the Governor's office and, of course ITD on the issue, but we've only heard from one... yes just one citizen on the issue in committee. Mr Hart, a precinct chairman in District 19 took the time yesterday to testify before the committee about what he is hearing from the folks in his precinct. That was refreshing and needed.

Of course we get emails and phone calls from citizens saying to invest in the infrastructure and to raise no taxes at all...

I would love to hear from you as would all of the members of the Transportation and Defense Committee in the House. Let us know your thoughts and how you feel we should best proceed. This infrastructure belongs to you, you pay for it's upkeep and for the people that do that upkeep... how would you proceed?

Let us hear from you.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Meridian Election March 3rd!!!

I just received an email from one of our Meridian neighbors asking me about the school bond election on March 3rd. I had to say, I had no idea that there was going to be a bond election and needed to do some research.

Below is the announcement of the Levy Election that will be held a week from today. I do not know how else this has been published, but thought it would be good to let my readers know. I would suggest that if you have questions, call the District offices at 855-4500.

This from the Meridian District 2 Web Site:

Supplemental Levy Election March 3, 2009

The district will be holding a supplemental levy election Tuesday, March 3, 2009.

The levy will ask voters whether or not to give the Board of Trustees authority to raise up to $10 million per year for each of the next two years.

Supplemental levies must be approved by the voters every two years. The current supplemental levy, which also raises $10 million per year, is set to expire this year.

Revenue generated by the supplemental levy must be used for district operations like staffing, teaching materials, etc. Unlike a plant facility levy or bond levy, supplemental levy revenue cannot be used for building construction.

The levy rate that provides local support for Meridian District Schools will remain the same if voters approve the proposed supplemental levy.

All schools will be polling places, and voters living in Joint School District No. 2 can vote at any polling place. Unregistered voters can register at the polls the day of the election. The polls will be open from 8 am until 8 pm.


Monday, February 23, 2009

The Cost of Stimulus to Idaho...

There seems to always be a cost for everything, nothing I've found is really free. One of the costs that we here in the Capital just realized is that the stimulus bill will be costing Idaho citizens just to look at it.

A study was done many years ago that broke out what it costs the state for guys like me and all the support staffs to be here to make the decisions of the state. That number was around $30,000.00 per day or about $90k per month. I suspect that number is higher these days, but none the less the timing of the stimulus bill is going to keep the Legislature in session for a longer period. How long no one really knows, but we were on track to finish around the 3rd week of March. I would venture a guess that we've tacked on another 20 days at least with the potential for a special session later in the year. We are very likely to twist in the wind for a few more days while we continue to figure out just what parts of the stimulus we want and don't want. The Gov's direction to his departments is to get him their recommendations for their budgets by March 4th....

The Legislature was ready to start setting budgets this week, the delay in re-looking will delay that process and the staff and Legislators could be here through April and into May depending on what is selected to be put in the budgets and the reactions of the Legislators to those selections.

I'm not saying that we should not stay and do the state's business... but these costs all roll up into a big bill at the end of the year that you and I pay for with our taxes.

Nothing is ever free...


Friday, February 20, 2009

The Idaho Stimulus...

Margaret Thatcher once said, "The trouble with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money"

We are trying to determine the current revenue rate of the state for 2010 to set our budget. As required by the Idaho Constitution, we are required to have a balanced budget at each year's end. Forecasted revenue for 2010 is down, way down and budget setting was to begin next week. That budget would be reflective of Idaho's economy and would become, as is the 2009 budget, the baseline for budgeting in 2011 and so on.

With the new stimulus package from Washington DC being set up for the Gov's office to request funds in the next 45 days, creates some issues. The Executive branch will have to understand what the 1100 page law now is and how to use those funds to meet the needs of Idaho, while not wrapping Idaho up with federal strings that typically come with "free money". But the Gov can not execute those funds unless they have been authorized by the Legislature (and in the stimulus bill, they kind of forgot to include that process).

We have put the normal budgeting process on hold to better understand just how the Legislative and Executive branches can most effectively and efficiently meld the funds into our process to move forward.

In my humble opinion, we need not knee jerk and do something silly before we truly understand the size of the tiger's tail we are about to grab. It makes sense to me to set our budget on what we know today and follow that up with a "stimulus supplemental" bill to keep the two separate. I don't think we will continue to get "socialist money" forever and need to ensure we are able to keep sight of what our true Idaho revenue and costs are to run our state.

One-time money rolled into our budget will cloud our process and our thinking.

Your thoughts?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

IYCC Set Up Just In Time...

This just released today from the House Ways and Means Committee back in DC that outlines the stimulus provisions that fall under the jurisdiction of the committee:


High unemployment and rising costs have outpaced Americans’ paychecks. We will help workers train and find jobs, and help struggling families make ends meet.

Helping Workers Find Jobs

• Training and Employment Services: $4 billion for job training including formula grants for adult, dislocated worker, and youth services (including $1.2 billion to create up to one million summer jobs for youth). The needs of workers also will be met through dislocated worker national emergency grants, new competitive grants for worker training in high growth and emerging industry sectors (with priority consideration to “green” jobs and healthcare), and increased funds for the YouthBuild program. Green jobs training will include preparing workers for activities supported by other economic recovery funds, such as retrofitting of buildings, green construction, and the production of renewable electric power.

Let's get our kids outside this summer!

Will the New President Blink?...

Will Wolves in Idaho really be delisted?

The US Fish and Wildlife service released their news release yesterday and has submitted the documents with the new rules reflecting Wolf delisting to the Federal Register. Idaho, Montana and other states have worked hard for many years to follow the directions of the DOI to recover Wolves in our regions, just as we were "requested/required" to do by the USFWS.

One can question the introduction in the first place and how that happened, or question the way and reasons for the introduction and many other things... but at the end of the trail, we have met the conditions of delisting set by the feds by 5 times many years ago.

In fact, Idaho met the delisting requirements back in 2000 and now, for the second time, the USFWS will again be finally recognizing the successful recovery of the species... or are they?

I called the USFWS yesterday after the news release and found that by the time they submitted the documents outlining the new rules for delisting, it was reported back from the Federal Register that the publication date for those new rules would be Jan 27th. This was reportedly due to "the holiday shutdown" and the "inauguration shutdown" reducing the time needed to schedule the publication of the rules.

Why is Jan 27th an important date to Idaho? The decision to delist was made under the Bush Administration, but they will be gone and the new Obama Administration incoming on the 20th will assume the watch. It's typical for new administrations to put all new rules making on hold to ensure that the new rules are in step with the new administrations perspectives and directions.

Rules published in the Federal Register are typically effective 30 days from the date of publication, unless other timelines or dates are included within the publication. As of Jan 20th, the Obama Administration will have the ability to publish or not publish the new rules that have been submitted. They will also have the choice to hold the effective date, change the effective date or pull the delisting rules all together.

Will the new President surcome to groups like the Defenders of Wildlife (who, by the way, helped formulate the federally approved Idaho Wolf management plan) threats to sue or stop the delisting by any means or will the Obama administration finally recognize the success of the recovery and allow the states to manage our wildlife as agreed many years ago?

We will know on Jan 27th if the new rules are printed in the Federal Register or not... a keystone date for Idaho wildlife management decisions. If they are not printed, the Obama administration will have blinked and have left Idaho citizens once again pondering why we are on the receiving end of badly played wildlife politics.

What do you think? Will we see Wolves delisted or not?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Being Part of a Solution...

It is that time of year again where it seems much easier to talk down ideas and solutions without coming to the table with ideas to resolve issues at the same time.

"Potholes over people"... I wonder how many meetings it took to come up with that slogan? Playing defense has become a way of life for the Democrats in the legislature where throwing up roadblocks seems to be the strategy of the day.

Only when pressed does it seem that they will unite to offer alternative solutions to bills already on the table. As an example, last session where 5 of us Republicans on the Transportation committee worked weeks on end to find ways to fund our transportation shortfalls. When the bills made it to committee, the usual road blocks were thrown down, I challenged the blockers by suggesting they also had equal opportunity to offer their own solutions.

I was pleased that a group of Democrats from the committee took some time to put some alternative methods of funding bills together... new ideas and ways to get there is what we needed to see, it added to the choice of options for us all last year. That's how the system should work, not continuing to just throw out roadblocks to what's offered by the Republicans. This is not an "us against them" situation, Idaho citizens expect more from us than that, they want solutions to their issues, not catchy phrases.

Many of us would much rather see ideas offered as solutions to budget and road issues. Drawing more out of our rainy day funds is a no-brainer, but we can't spend all of our savings at seeing the first drop of rain... you don't do that at home, we won't do that with the state savings either, it's past time to tighten the belts of state government. I have heard many creative solutions from our department heads in finding great and unique ways to do more with less. Had we not had a downturn, would we have seen these types of innovative efforts? I think not likely...

Being part of the solution is what the people of Idaho expect of us, but I guess it's easier to add to the problem by just opening your mouth and letting catchy slogans and empty words fall out... but that doesn't solve any of the issues facing our citizens.