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Opinion Column
For the week of July 26 through August 1, 2000

Idaho lawmakers have their priorities upside down

Commentary by PAT MURPHY


No Ph.D needed to see what’s wrong with this picture:

Idaho Republican legislators, who’re cold-blooded misers about repairing public schools where children spend their days engulfed by dangers, are rushing pell-mell like big spenders to ladle out $40 million to repair dilapidated parts of the Capitol that pose safety hazards to them.

Even the threat of being forced by court order into fixing public schools fails to budge lawmakers into doing what most thinking people consider urgent and just, even as they pamper themselves with urgent Capitol repairs.

This seems to be a pattern with conservative politicians, who treat public education as a special whipping boy worthy of no priorities.

In the end, the political skinflints are too close-minded to realize whom they really hurt—their own children and grandchildren.

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Tinkering with Mother Nature and the environment is ticklish business, as opponents to dam breaching to save the slowly vanishing salmon may soon discover.

They claim they can rescue salmon from extinction without breaching dams.

If their schemes fail, however, then they’ll discover what others have ruefully learned—that altering Nature for economic and political benefits often creates either totally irreparable results or solutions that demand gargantuan costs.

Three decisions in my native Florida come to mind.

In the early 1950s, long before there was a serious and influential pro-environment lobbying apparatus, Miami Beach developers found a judge who ruled they could cover the shoreline with new hotels, built almost down to the high tidewater line, leaving only narrow alleys between hotels for the public to reach the Atlantic Ocean.

The consequence: the public was squeezed out of easy access to the beach and had to endure the gawdawful eyesore of hotels, cheek-to-cheek for miles.

The nearby city of Fort Lauderdale was wiser: it banned any sort of construction on the beach, now one of the world’s most popular.

Then there was the disastrous decision allowing real estate promoters to drain wetlands to construct huge new housing developments and commercial properties west of Miami on fringes of the Everglades.

Thereafter, salt water backed up into the Everglades aquifer, threatening wildlife and drinking water for millions of South Floridians. Now, the federal and state governments—read that, "taxpayers"—are spending billions of dollars to reverse the damage.

And finally, a scheme to carve the Cross Florida Barge Canal across the peninsula from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean that all but destroyed the picturesque Oklawaha River in central Florida.

The project, which would’ve shortened barge trips from the Gulf to the Atlantic by 600 miles through a 15-foot-wide, 12-foot-deep waterway, now has been junked as not only a pointless boondoggle but an environmental disgrace. And once again, taxpayers are dishing up millions of dollars to restore what was destroyed.

One wonders what the postscript will be to the Idaho history of building dams in the name of jobs that now threaten the extinction of salmon.


Pat Murphy is the retired publisher of the Arizona Republic and a former radio commentator.

 

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