May 31, 2009 in Idaho Voices

Idaho motorists rank among best for behind-the-wheel knowhow

Betsy Z. Russell
 

BOISE – According to a new national survey by GMAC Insurance, Idaho drivers are tied (with Wisconsin) for best in the nation in their driving knowledge.

This isn’t new drivers; it’s drivers who are already out on the roads. The annual survey polled 5,183 licensed drivers from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, asking them 20 questions taken from state driver exams. Idaho drivers’ average score was 80.6 percent; just 5.7 percent of Idaho respondents failed, scoring under 70 percent.

Nationally, 20.1 percent of licensed drivers failed the test. It’s the fifth year of the survey.

“We’ve seen the results ebb and flow, and this year scores are down,” said GMAC executive Wade Bontrager. “Each and every one of us need to continually be brushing up on safe driving practices.”

Among the points befuddling the most respondents nationwide: yellow lights and safe following distances. The worst-scoring drivers this year were New York’s, who took over last place by edging last year’s worst-ranked state, New Jersey. Montana and Utah scored well, ranking third and seventh; Wyoming and Oregon tied for eighth; and Washington tied with Oklahoma for 17th place. Last year’s top-ranked state, Kansas, fell to fourth place this year.

More worked for less

The highest-paying sectors of jobs in Idaho in 2008 – management of companies, mining, and utilities – employed just 6 percent of the state’s workers, while the lowest-paying sectors – accommodation/food services, and arts/entertainment/ recreation, employed 10 percent. This is according to the Idaho Department of Labor, which calculated that the average annual wage for all industries in Idaho was $33,889. For the top sector, the managers of companies, it was $75,205. At the bottom, those who worked in accommodations and food services averaged $12,545 a year.

The fourth-highest-paying sector was durable manufacturing, which employed 30,222 at an average annual wage of $57,103; that was 4.6 percent of the work force. The third-lowest paying was agriculture, which employed 129,009 people at an average of $21,717 a year; that’s 20 percent of the state’s workers.

‘A good time for somebody new’

Idaho Department of Water Resources Director Dave Tuthill was at the center of a controversy a year ago over the North Idaho water rights adjudication, but that issue, like several other major ones facing the department, has since calmed considerably. Now, Tuthill has announced he’ll retire at the end of June after 33 years at the department.

“It’s a good time for the agency and a good time for me, too,” he explained. “I’ve been eligible for full retirement since last year. I did not want to retire and leave the agency holding the bag and pass on difficulties to my successor.”

Since he was named director in 2007, the agency has weathered serious budget shortfalls, water calls in Southern Idaho and completion of a long-sought comprehensive aquifer management plan for the Eastern Snake Plain.

“We are blessed with a wonderful water year,” Tuthill said. “The big issues have been determined. We’ve addressed the budget shortfalls, we have a strong plan to address those. It’s a good time for somebody new to come on board.”

Tuthill said after his retirement, he plans to open a small engineering consulting firm. “I’ll be working for myself,” he said. “My plan is to start a one-person shop.”

Taking their messages to the people

Dueling op-ed pieces from Republican and Democratic leaders in recent weeks have put different spins on this year’s Idaho legislative session.

From Republican Gov. Butch Otter, Senate President Pro-tem Bob Geddes, R-Soda Springs, and House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, came an upbeat article contending that the session “made real progress for Idaho.”

Wrote the leaders: “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. To draw an analogy to a typical Idaho family, we didn’t buy a new car or remodel our kitchen, but we gave the old car a tuneup and reinforced the foundation of our home.”

They apparently were responding to an earlier opinion piece from Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise, and House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, headlined, “Session was marked by unnecessary cuts and GOP power plays.”

The two wrote: “The 2009 Legislature will forever be remembered as the one that made the first-ever cuts to public schools – cuts that many of us felt were completely unnecessary, given the availability of federal recovery money and Idaho taxpayers’ own rainy-day funds.” They added: “Despite holding most of the legislative seats and the governor’s office, Republicans appeared to spend much of the 2009 session locked in power struggles, unable to govern effectively and meet Idaho’s citizens’ most basic needs.”

Betsy Z. Russell can be reached toll-free at (866) 336-2854 or betsyr@spokesman.com.


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