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Editorial Roundup: Idaho

UPDATED: Fri., March 5, 2021

By The Associated Press

Recent editorials from Idaho newspapers:

Idaho’s Republican legislators: A woman’s place is in the home

March 3

Idaho Statesman

A group of over 50 people, mostly women, rallied in front of the Idaho Statehouse to protest the House killing Bill 226 that would provide $6 million in federal grants for early childhood education in Idaho. The vote was split and failed by one vote. BY DARIN OSWALD

The 2021 Idaho legislative session has not been a particularly good one for women. Republican legislators have proposed a number of bills that directly affect women negatively and have shot down several bills that would have helped them.

One legislator this week let slip the attitude he has about women: stay in the home, where you belong.

“(Any) bill that makes it easier or more convenient for mothers to come out of the home and let others raise their child, I don’t think that’s a good direction for us to be going,” said Rep. Charlie Shepherd, R-Pollock, in arguing against accepting a $6 million federal grant to establish an early-learning program in Idaho.

It’s a stunning admission that a legislator thinks we shouldn’t establish an early-learning program because he thinks it would serve as a babysitting program and give mothers an excuse just to get out of the house and let someone else raise their children for them.

Is that what they really think?

Shepherd issued an apology on the floor of the House on Wednesday — sort of.

“After hearing my remarks played back, I recognize how my remarks sounded derogatory, offensive and even sexist toward the mothers of this state,” Shepherd said.

No, representative, your remarks didn’t sound derogatory, offensive and even sexist; they were derogatory, offensive and sexist.

Further, Shepherd tried to explain, “My intent was to compliment mothers in every way possible. I stand before you now to admit that I failed miserably.”

We struggle to comprehend how Shepherd intended to compliment mothers by suggesting that they are just looking for a convenient way to dump their kids on someone else so they can “come out of the house.”

The measure to accept the federal money eventually was shot down.

Sorry, kids.

Sorry, moms, get back in the house.

“This vote was such a disappointment and a slap in the face to the working families of Idaho,” House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, said in a press release after the vote. “This money was a lifeline to communities around our state where children could have the opportunity to get a boost toward literacy and school readiness. Idaho is one of only four states that offer no public early childhood education options, and this was a golden opportunity to expand offerings without expending state funds. Our children are the future of this state, and we should be doing everything we can to invest in their educational development. We must do better.”

Unfortunately, Shepherd’s comments detract from the bigger discussion about the fact that we already have single working moms and dads in need who send their kids to day-care centers or preschools. This money would have helped those Idahoans. Further, comments like Shepherd’s show that he’s missing the point about the benefits of early education and having children ready to learn by kindergarten.

Shepherd’s comments perhaps explain a lot about why these Republican legislators keep casting votes against women.

Another bill that would have helped women in Idaho was killed on the same day in the Senate.

Senate Bill 1098 would have allowed women to receive up to a 12-month supply of prescribed contraceptives if they so choose. While some insurance plans reimburse only for a one-month or three-month supply, this bill would have required any health benefit plan issued or renewed on or after Jan. 1, 2022, to include as one of its options reimbursement for up to a 12-month refill supply.

When Idaho legislators like Rep. Shepherd say the quiet parts out loud, we begin to understand why they vote the way they do.

So, thank you, Rep. Shepherd, for at least being honest and opening a window to how you really feel about women’s issues.

At least now we know where women stand with you — in the kitchen.

Online: Idaho Statesman

———

Von Ehlinger believes Boise knows best

March 3

The Lewiston Tribune

Sometime later this year, President Joe Biden and the Democratic Congress may push through a massive public infrastructure bill.

Should that happen, communities across the state of Idaho may become eligible for grants — above and beyond the simple act of filling potholes and resurfacing streets — that will be devoted specifically to addressing community entrances and/or parks.

Say, for instance, the city of Lewiston snags a reasonably good piece of change for a facelift — perhaps near the roundabout at Snake River Avenue.

If Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger, R-Lewiston, has his way, the money would be turned back.

Here’s why:

The freshman Republican is responsible for a bill that would subject all public art projects costing more than $10,000 to a public vote.

There’s no small part of irony involved here. Von Ehlinger serves in a Legislature that seems hellbent on stopping voters from second-guessing its own decisions through the initiative or referendum process. Yet, here he would insist that any county, city or taxing district subject itself to second-guessing at the ballot box when it comes to public art.

What’s more, he would insist that two-thirds of the voters agree — a margin rarely achieved and even then, usually for public school construction bonds.

No one ever accused Idaho’s lawmakers of respecting local control. But this latest example of “Boise knows best” has all the trappings of a slippery slope. Slap a two-thirds vote requirement on public arts projects today; tomorrow it could be interfering with something Lewiston truly holds dear, such as fixing 21st Street or concocting some strategy to finally enable Lewiston’s economy to catch up with the rest of the state.

What’s generating this?

An educated guess would be the “Canoe Wave” sculpture near the eastern side of the Interstate Bridge. Although it’s something of a tourist draw now, the $100,000 structure generated its share of criticism when it first emerged a decade ago.

If it was a matter of taste, then it’s up to the individual.

But a lot of the griping was unfounded. For one thing, this was never a matter of diverting federal, state or local dollars from street repairs into some esoteric piece of art.

By the time Burlingham, Ala., artist Christopher Fennell completed it, the project had cost close to $100,000. But it was a small slice of a $904,000 package that included landscaping, rock work and retaining structures at Kiwanis Park, a sculptured rock and a welcome sign at the entrance to Lewiston just off the Interstate Bridge, planting of trees at the entrance and along Snake River Avenue and aerators at the ponds.

Most of the money came from the federal government: $500,000 in highway funds passed through the Idaho Transportation Department, $148,000 from the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development and then another $48,000 from Avista Corp.

To obtain the grant, the city had to comply with two requirements: Raise 9 percent of the project’s costs, either in cash or through in-kind supplies and labor, and sponsor a public art project, which led to the “Canoe Wave.”

For the sake of argument, say history repeats itself and the infrastructure bill provides Lewiston with the opportunity to spruce up a bit under the same terms. Before the city could accept the grant, it would have to arrange an election on the public art component. That costs money. So does coming up with at least some initial proposed art concept to share with the voters.

If the people say no — or if simply one-third plus one reject the idea — every bit of the federal grant, not simply the smaller sum allocated for public art — could be lost.

That’s not a win for the budget deficit hawks. The money won’t go back to the federal treasury unspent. It would be diverted to another community that is free to spend it without being subjected to a two-thirds voter referendum.

Is that how the citizens of the Sixth Legislative District want their representative spending his time?

Online: The Lewiston Tribune

———

Time to rethink minimum wage

Feb. 28

Coeur d’Alene Press

President Joe Biden lost his bid to include a $15 an hour minimum wage component in his $1.9 trillion stimulus package. The president is seeking a gradual increase that would more than double the current $7.25.

Over many years this newspaper has steadfastly opposed government-imposed mandates that could seriously hurt small businesses, but it’s time to rethink raising the floor of what workers can earn.

We acknowledge that some small businesses would bear the burden not just of paying their lowest wage employees more, but likely having to increase pay for longer term, loyal workers. The hit could be significantly greater than merely anteing up for that lowest rung on the payroll ladder.

But when Biden said during a recent town hall that “no one should work 40 hours a week and live in poverty,” the statement rang of truth. Let’s take a closer look locally to see why.

Meet Ten Buckanhour of Coeur d’Alene. Outside the service industry that includes wait staff, nobody makes $7.25 an hour. You’ll be hard-pressed to find anybody working full time for less than $10 an hour, hence our fictitious volunteer for today’s experiment.

In the Coeur d’Alene area, average rent is $1,112 for a 901 square-foot apartment, according to RentCafe.com. Ten Buckanhour found one for $900 a month — a bargain by today’s standards.

Ten Buckanhour has a car payment of $250 — a junker that will take Ten from Point A to Point B with a reasonable chance of arriving there on time and in one piece. With that comes an insurance requirement — let’s say $100 a month, which is likely conservative.

School loans? Ah, not good, but thousands of Idahoans have them. According to Educationdata.com, the average student debt in Idaho is $32,600. Nationally, at 6 percent interest for 20 years, the average monthly student loan payment is $393, and Idaho’s would be a little higher. Ten Buckanhour didn’t finish college and has a $250/month student loan.

On earnings, Ten Buckanhour is paying 6.2 percent Social Security tax, 12 percent federal income tax, 1.45 percent Medicare and 1.125 percent Idaho state tax. That comes to $334 in payroll deductions each month.

Thus Ten Buckanhour’s gross pay of $1,600 a month, after taxes, student loan, car payment and rent leaves a grand total of negative $234 each and every month. And that’s without any food, utilities, clothing, gasoline, car repairs or incidentals.

If the minimum wage reaches $15 an hour, Ten Buckanhour would gross $2,400 a month. Net after all of the expenses above — and taxes would be higher — would leave $515 a month, or $130 a week for food, clothing, utilities and so on. And if there are children? Medical bills? Credit card debt to pay for car repairs? Then Ten Buckanhour is in deep, deep trouble.

Something has to be done. Hardworking people deserve a decent life, no matter their skill level. With a little math at our fingertips and compassion in our hearts, America can crack this difficult puzzle.

Online: Coeur d’Alene Press

———

The Idaho Legislature should focus on providing property tax relief

Feb. 27

Idaho Press

We can’t say we’re surprised to find ourselves halfway through the legislative session with no property tax relief for Idahoans. The legislature seems busy consolidating and expanding its power over cities and citizens, when it could be using existing tools for property tax solutions.

It’s not too late for the Idaho Legislature to find a good temporary solution to lower property taxes, then begin a more substantial examination of the tax code next session. We can’t wish away growth — and the challenges it creates — by pretending it isn’t happening.

The only half-hearted effort to handle property taxes is a bill that would prevent cities from saving money or fully taxing new construction and annexations. We think punishing the local stewards of our taxes is ridiculous and antithetical to the legislature’s desire for fiscal conservatism. We’re also confused why the legislature is so opposed to the popular and best solution to giving Idahoans a break.

Removing the cap on the homeowner’s exemption would be the quickest and easiest way to put money back in people’s pockets without handcuffing local governments as they respond to rapid population growth.

That growth shouldn’t punish the people who have lived here for decades or even generations. Growth should be self-sustaining, and ways to ensure that happens is to continue allowing local governments to fully tax new construction and annexations, and to let school districts collect impact fees.

These fees for schools would be paid by developers on each new housing unit built. This strategy would provide tax relief for existing homeowners, as well as allow a consistent source of funding for school districts that need to expand.

If a district needs a new middle school because of a new 600-house subdivision, the developers and new residents driving that need should foot the bill, not the widow who paid off her house in 1995 and is living on a fixed income. We long for a day when there school bond elections are no longer necessary except on very rare occasions. Educators have better things to do with their time than to have to become election experts.

Impact fees for schools are definitely not a perfect fix. Those fees are passed to the consumer in the form of higher house prices — which definitely won’t help the affordable housing problem. However, this is where the legislature comes in.

Our legislature — elected officials who work for us, the people — should spend the next year observing other states’ approaches to growth, and how their tax code serves their states’ interests. What have other states done that has worked, or not worked? How can other ideas and policies be tailored to fit our state?

We understand growth is largely a “city problem” right now, but make no mistake, it could eventually start to affect smaller communities.

It’s imperative we tackle this problem now, not in 10 years.

We urge the legislature to cut Idahoans a break this year, and spend the next year collecting information for reform of the tax code next year.

Online: Idaho Press

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