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Eye On Boise

Fri., March 21, 2014, 10:43 a.m.

Dems’ take on session: ‘Did very little on issues that challenge us most’

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, speaks at a news conference called by House and Senate Democrats on Friday (Betsy Russell)
House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, speaks at a news conference called by House and Senate Democrats on Friday (Betsy Russell)

House and Senate Democrats today pointed to some steps forward during the just-concluded legislative session, from the passage of a criminal justice reinvestment plan to some boosts to education funding. “But the Legislature did very little on many of the issues that challenge us most,” House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said at a Statehouse news conference today. “Twenty years of GOP tax cuts for the rich and well-connected have slashed investment in education and economic growth. Families, cities and small businesses are struggling to make ends meet. Idaho ranks near-last in education investment, 50th in the nation for family wages, and first in the percentage of minimum wage jobs.”

“Everyone in this building knows this,” Rusche said. “Just three months ago, almost everyone said public schools and workforce development were top priorities. That high-minded rhetoric did not translate into action.”

He pointed to continued shortfalls in education funding, multimillion-dollar unexpected costs this year due to “botched contracting for the Idaho Education Network,” continued high costs for outside attorneys, scandal and lawsuits at the state’s privately run prison, and no moves toward increasing road funding, updating discrimination laws, or expanding Medicaid, despite potential payoffs in both lives and dollars. Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said, “It was no secret that the majority party put these issues aside because it’s an election year.”

Democrats are only a small minority in Idaho’s Legislature, with more than 80 percent of the seats held by Republicans. Stennett said, “Our GOP colleagues debated divisive social issues that harm our standing in the nation and the world. … A more balanced Legislature will put Idaho back onto the path toward prosperity.”

Rusche said that harm could come in everything from families that don’t want to send their kids to college in a state that allows guns on campus, to customers who decline to buy Idaho food products due to concerns about animal abuse, after the passage of this year’s “ag-gag” bill, which criminalizes taking surreptitious video of ag operations. “I think that those are going to hurt us long term,” Rusche said, “by changing the marketplace for Idaho products.”

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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