Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Blaine Dems boldly chastise GOP

Stennett, Jaquet issue blistering statement on 2nd day of Legislature

Express Staff Writer

Gov. C.L. ?Butch? Otter- Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum- Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum

On the second day of the Idaho Legislature, two Blaine County Democrats boldly criticized the state's majority party, saying Republicans have stood in the way of fair taxation, local-option legislation, better education and improved healthcare.

Senate and House minority leaders Clint Stennett and Wendy Jaquet, both Ketchum Democrats, issued a statement Tuesday morning saying they believe Idaho's governor is on the right track, but contending the Republican-controlled Legislature stands in the way of progress.

"The people we represent are really asking for change," Jaquet said. "I guess we feel we're being emboldened."

There are only 19 Democratic lawmakers in the state House and seven in the Senate. But despite its unmistakable minority status, the party is becoming more confident in criticizing the GOP.

"This Republican Legislature's continued dismissal of our state's most pressing problems has left us years behind in dealing with the main issue of the day," Jaquet said in the shared statement, "(It's) the issue that dominates our communities, our overcrowded classrooms, the cleanliness of our water and the quality of the very air that we breath."

That issue, she said, is growth.

Stennett and Jaquet said growth has helped the state's economy, but the Republican Legislature's unwillingness to tackle tough issues has caused problems with transit, air quality, rising property values, crumbling roads and ailing schools.

They said growth must pay for itself.

The Blaine County lawmakers also offered reflections on Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's State of the State address, which the governor issued at Boise State University on Monday afternoon.

"His remarks offered a glimpse into the ways of the past and the possibilities of the future, and solutions to be made in the middle," Stennett said. "We're pleased that our governor's independent thinking has led him to speak directly about solutions to the real problems facing Idaho."

Stennett said the people of Idaho and their political leaders should agree on mutual goals, which should include clean air, clean water, a sound education system and more responsible government.

"On these issues we are standing with the governor," he said. "But let's be frank. This Republican Legislature is standing in the way."

Jaquet said citizens already have a right to be concerned despite Democrats' view that Otter is on the right track.

"Republican leaders who control this body picked up right where they left off a year ago," she said. "The 2007 session was a do-nothing Legislature sent home with few solutions to the serious problems facing Idaho."

Jaquet said that now, as the 2008 session begins, the governor, Democrats and non-partisan groups are putting forth bold ideas that Republican leaders say are non-starters.

"Unfortunately, it's another example of how Idaho's middle class has been ignored for too many years and by too many Republican Legislatures," she said. "Democrats are ready to tackle the issues of real importance to Idaho.

"Whether it's protecting our way of life, improving teacher pay, giving communities more local control, fixing our roads and highways or making growth pay for itself, this Legislature needs to start acting."

Because the Idaho Capitol is being renovated, Otter gave his speech in the Special Events Center at Boise State. Flanked by House and Senate leaders, as well as members of the Idaho judiciary, the governor spoke for a little more than a half-hour and outlined his vision for the 2008 lawmaking session.

He said the state's finances are stable, and even growing, and he said he wants to spend much of a projected fiscal year 2009 budget surplus to improve education and highways, boost healthcare, build a new prison and offer tax relief to the poor. He also called for a "greener" Idaho that obtains 25 percent of its energy from renewable resources by 2025. He wants to give scholarships to lower-income kids. He wants to spend $1 million from the state's tobacco settlement fund to fight a war on meth.

Otter outlined a $3.13 billion budget proposal for the year starting in July. Up 10.9 percent from last year, it would be the first Idaho budget exceeding $3 billion.

Otter's spending plan, which would spend all but around $34 million of a projected $286 million surplus, indicates the governor's confidence that the state's economy will continue to grow.

Referring to his proposed $20 million study of every aquifer in Idaho, Otter said that "doing nothing hasn't worked."

"The problem isn't solving itself," he said. "So as I always say, anyone and everyone with better or different ideas should bring them forward."

But on Tuesday, Stennett and Jaquet's bold criticism wasn't taken well.

"It's pretty sad when you don't get your way to start calling people names," House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, told the Idaho Statesman. "If they would introduce good ideas, they would be considered. Liberal ideas won't fly. The local option tax is a prime example."

Moyle, too, praised Otter's State of the State address, in which Otter indicated he favored a local option tax for roads, but not for public transit.

"The governor had it right," Moyle said. "The local option tax should be used for roads, not buses."

The Democratic leaders, however, were resolute.

"There is so much more we can do to help ease the burden on Idaho's middle class, but the Republican Legislature always seems to make sure that special interests find their way to the front of the line," Stennett said. "That must end, and Idaho's middle class needs their turn at the front."

Stennett called for "reduced rhetoric and real relief," beginning with a repeal of Idaho's food tax.

"Idaho deserves better than what we got last year and what we've been getting for decades," Jaquet said. "We urge our colleagues across the aisle to join our governor and join us in working toward real solutions.

"We ask them to stop obstructing progress and to commit to real change that Idahoans expect, need and deserve. We ask them, along with all of Idaho, to join us in our ongoing effort to make this state the best it can be."

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