Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Another defeat for Legislature's folly

Blaming only the Republican-controlled Idaho Legislature for the appalling and fatal 13-year effort to avoid its constitutional obligation to public schools would be grossly unjust.

The former and current State Attorneys General, Alan Lance and Lawrence Wasden, respectively, share in this misbegotten enterprise in political tom-foolery and willy-nilly waste of public funds.

The state's top lawyers--not to be confused with top legal minds--aided and abetted politicians seeking a coward's way out of complying with a long-standing court order to fund repairs of rundown school buildings. Legislators convinced the attorneys general to bless a statutory dodge to escape their re-sponsibilities.

The ploy was a honey. Rather than comply with 4th District Judge Deborah Bail's 2001 ruling that the Legislature is responsible for providing safe school facilities, lawmakers hemmed and hawed, then cooked up a bill shifting repair liability to hard-up school districts. Then, they added statutorily, if districts refused to increase taxes, judges were required to raise taxes on homeowners!

This scheme has been coldly and curtly rejected by the Idaho Supreme Court.

First-year students in a diploma-mill law school could be excused for drafting such a decree. Doesn't Idaho deserve better political judgment and legal advice?

The immediate question that comes to mind is whether Idaho's Republican legislative leaders are determined to continue engaging in yet more stunts to duck court-ordered funding of school repairs and court orders, and thus heap more humiliation, more litigation costs and costlier inflation-driven school re-pairs on the state.

Or, will they return to the world of the real where political leaders are expected to honor court rulings--and their oaths--and conduct public business for the public good?

The halls of the Idaho Capitol should not be the habitat for spiteful, small-minded provincials, although the drama of the school litigation these past 13 years has provided ample grounds to wonder about the Legislature's makeup.

Isn't Idaho's attorney general supposedly charged with giving the Legislature sound legal advice, not providing the color of law and the dignity of office to hare-brained schemes designed to avoid obeying the law?

Several courts, including Idaho?s highest court, have now have roundly and soundly rebuked the Legislature and two attorneys general in this tiresome spectacle.

Taxpayers also should be struck by the irony of Idaho Republicans marching out of step with President Bush. GOP delegates gathering in New York City will hear the president list No Child Left Behind as a hallmark education achievement.

What's the boast for Idaho Republican legislators? That leaky roofs, crumbling classroom facades and unreliable plumbing will build kids' character?

And are these the same lawmakers who were eager to lavish tens of millions of dollars modernizing the state Capitol and their digs?

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