Friday, May 29, 2009

Legislature’s accomplishments were real

C.L. "Butch" Otter is the governor of Idaho, Robert Geddes is the Idaho Senate president pro tem and Lawerence Denney is the speaker of the Idaho House of Representatives.



By any measure, the 2009 Idaho Legislature was too long and too expensive.

However, by no means was it the partisan waste of time that Democrats want you to believe.

It is the minority party leadership's privilege and indeed its duty—absent the burden of responsibility for enacting and implementing public policy—to point out what it considers the shortcomings of how the people's interests are represented by their government.

They are entitled to their own opinion; they are not entitled to their own facts.

The truth is that the 2009 Legislature made extraordinary progress under extremely difficult circumstances.

Most importantly, the Legislature did yeoman's work in crafting a budget that recognizes the proper role of government in people's lives, and endeavors to meet our constitutional and statutory responsibilities within the means of Idaho taxpayers.

At the same time, the Legislature stayed true to our commitment to provide at least some degree of relief to the neediest among us by continuing the phased increases of our grocery tax credit. It protected those Idahoans most directly affected in this recession by extending and enhancing unemployment benefits. And it facilitated our economic recovery and future prosperity by extending tax credits and rebates for small business expansion.

The Legislature also strengthened the foundation for real advances in education policy and technology by approving a sweeping reorganization of education governance from kindergarten through college, and by funding the Idaho Education Network initiative to bring the best and most cost-effective learning experience to every student via the Internet.

And our resources future is more secure as well with approval of the landmark Swan Falls water rights agreement with Idaho Power Co., and funding of the Comprehensive Aquifer Management Plan process.

In addition, the Legislature showed great fiscal responsibility by dramatically reducing the unfunded liability for state employee medical benefits, and by reforming the system for indemnifying local governments against catastrophic indigent medical costs.

Working together, we established a solid framework for effectively and efficiently using one-time federal stimulus funding to help put Idahoans back to work, including a state accountability Web site to enable citizens to track how the money is used.

What's more, the Legislature enacted a Department of Health and Welfare plan for toughening regulation of day care centers with seven or more children, and requiring background checks for caregivers with more than four children. And it encouraged voter participation in the democratic process by consolidating elections to four dates each year, starting in 2011—a move that has been needed for years.

Last but certainly not least, the Legislature reached a transportation funding compromise. It includes a commitment for ongoing new revenue and modernization of the user-pay fee structure while recognizing the steps being taken to advance real accountability and efficiency at the Idaho Transportation Department.

Minority leaders contend differences between the House and Senate, between the Legislature and the governor, and between Republicans and Democrats reflect disconnects from the people and communications failures on our part.

Putting aside the unprecedented way that minority leadership was included at the highest levels of policy discussion, we believe those differences actually reflect the sometimes messy realities of a dynamic, open and inclusive system that works—eventually—in the best interest of all Idahoans.

The 2009 session of the Legislature wasn't pretty, but it was a true representation of the challenges we face and what Winston Churchill called "the worst form of government, except for all the others that have been tried."

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