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Sun., May 19, 2013, midnight

Smart Bombs: Education under the gun

In the wake of the schoolhouse massacre in Newtown, Conn., Idaho’s lawmakers rallied to ensure that the state’s gun owners remained safe from government intruders. They passed four minor bills, because there aren’t many major changes left that could make the state more Second Amendment-y.

“It’s getting hard for us – there’s no easy fixes anymore,” a vigilant state Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, said in April.

However, there were a couple of setbacks. For example, a bill that would’ve made it a crime for state and local law enforcement officers to enforce any new federal gun restrictions didn’t pass. But lest you think the state is wavering in its commitment to firearms, Gov. Butch Otter announced to gun and ammo manufacturers that the state would love to have them. He sent letters to producers in 28 states promoting the benefits of relocating to Idaho and declared May to be “Second Amendment Protection Month.”

Idahoans can pack heat in the Capitol, so, yeah, it’s safe – the amendment, that is.

Anyway, one of the “benefits” of relocating to Idaho is reliably low wages. StateImpact, a project of National Public Radio stations, recently took a look at this alleged asset, reporting: “The share of Idaho workers earning minimum wage has grown from 5 percent in 2011 to 7.7 percent in 2012. The growth has put Idaho in the top spot for the largest share of minimum wage workers in the country.”

The state has more minimum wage workers (at $7.25 an hour) than neighboring Washington ($9.19) and five other states with higher populations. Not more per capita. More, total. It has three times as many as Oregon.

The state is experiencing an influx of retirees lured by the low cost of living and an exodus of ambitious young people in search of decent paychecks. Half of Idahoans make less than $14.85 an hour. In per capita income for 2012, the state outranked only Mississippi.

No. 1 for guns; No. 49 in the ability to buy one. I guess anything can be marketed these days.

An apple a day. Economists say one of the keys to state economic growth is to invest in education to bolster marketable skills. But Idaho lags badly there, ranking 43rd in the nation in workforce investments, according to a Milliken Institute report. Meanwhile, the number of call center jobs has tripled over the past decade.

As for K-12 education, the Legislature recently gave local districts more control over their budgets, noting that some are in crisis. That was awfully thoughtful, considering it was legislators who decided that state funding should be $138.7 million less for the coming school year than it was in 2009, even as the population grows.

The Coeur d’Alene School District flexed its local control with an opening health-care-benefits offer to teachers that’s sickening. Premiums would increase by a minimum of $333 a month, coverage for family members would drop from 71 percent to zilch and deductibles would skyrocket to $2,000 and $4,000. Prescription drugs would not be covered. If a teacher in this pro-family state wants to have a baby, she faces $15,000 in out-of-pocket costs. Keep in mind that these teachers haven’t had a raise in five years.

If the message to weapons makers is, “Y’all come!” The message to teachers is, “Go away!”

But, hey, at least Idaho is a good place to raise a gun.

Idahocare. Couldn’t help notice that the $333 monthly premium increase flung at Coeur d’Alene teachers is greater than the cost per month of a “silver plan” (70 percent coverage) for a 40-year-old on the health care exchange in Washington state.

Maybe the Coeur d’Alene School District ought to just cut each employee a check and send them to the Idaho health care exchange. Unfortunately, those prices aren’t available yet because the state is way behind in setting it up after protesting its very existence.

After all, who needs it?

Associate Editor Gary Crooks can be reached at or (509) 459-5026. Follow him on Twitter @GaryCrooks.

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