Printed on: January 04, 2013

Cheers & Jeers

Mack tells a hard truth

CHEERS to retiring State Rep. Mack Shirley of Rexburg. Finally, a Republican official said it: The Risch shift of 2006 hurt Idaho's public schools. Badly.

"I wish we had not taken the school property tax away from the educators," Shirley told the Rexburg Standard Journal. "We assured (educators) and we were assured by the governor as legislators that it would be a wash, that there would be no difference in income. But fact of the matter is, when the recession hit, the sales tax income went way down."

Shirley was among the lawmakers who seven years ago gathered in a one-day special session called by then Gov. James Risch to raise the sales tax from 5 cents to 6 cents and eliminate the maintenance and operation property tax levy used in the state's funding formula for public schools. Lawmakers traded $260 million in property tax relief for a $210 million sales tax increase.

When the recession hit, the sales tax tanked and schools suffered. That's not the only problem. Not willing to see their schools cut to the bone, folks around the state increased their own property taxes to make up for state budget shortfalls. But not every district can afford to pass supplemental levies, and that sets up a system that, as Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter recognized, does not fulfill Idaho's constitutional mandate to provide a "uniform" education to every child.

Things are far different than they were seven years ago. Property values are not ballooning as they were in 2006. Idahoans in the recent election gave their seal of approval to the traditional public school model. A lawsuit over the constitutionality of Idaho's public school funding is pending.

The committee Otter formed to examine education reform should take a look at the Risch shift. Clearly, any discussion of reform should include how and to

what level Idaho funds its schools. And down the road, the folks who gave Idaho the referendum on the Luna laws may want to take on the Risch shift. As was proven in November, the Legislature isn't the only way to enact -- or subtract -- legislation.

CHEERS to Congressman Mike Simpson and U.S. Sens. James Risch and Mike Crapo. The senior members of Idaho's congressional delegation cast difficult but necessary votes on the fiscal cliff bill. All three are getting hammered by tea party types whose pursuit of the perfect apparently does not allow them to understand a few simple truths.

Going over the fiscal cliff would have been disastrous for eastern Idaho because of steep cuts to Idaho National Laboratory. With a farm bill extension tucked into the fiscal cliff bill, Risch, Crapo and Simpson can say they voted to support Idaho's ag community.

The argument can be made that the fiscal cliff bill was a victory for Republicans. For years, the GOP has been fighting to make permanent the Bush tax cuts. This law does that for all but the highest earners.

Even anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist gets where Risch, Crapo and Simpson are coming from. Norquist said this to CNN: "They're not voting for a tax increase, they're voting to save tax cuts for as many people as they can over Obama's objections."

JEERS to Congressman Raul Labrador, who called the fiscal cliff bill "worse than no deal at all." Tell that to the unemployed who will continue to receive benefits.

Tell that to the site workers who still have jobs. Tell that to the state's ranchers and farmers. Tell that to the investors, who for the first time in recent memory, know what their tax rates will be and can plan accordingly. Tell that to 99 percent of Idahoans who will not see their taxes go up because of the fiscal cliff bill.

The federal government has cut spending, and more reductions are coming. We know that. But to vote against a bill that averts disaster because it does not immediately address a deficit problem that will take decades to fix is indefensible. That's why every Republican House member from Idaho, Oregon and Washington except Labrador held their noses and cast this vote.

Labrador has proven to be more ideologue than problem solver. Two years ago, Risch, Crapo and Simpson made the necessary votes to increase the federal debt ceiling and honor America's commitments. Labrador took the easy way out then, as he did this week.

JEERS to Labrador, again. Instead of voting for a House speaker Thursday, Labrador abstained. Apparently he didn't have the stomach to cast a ballot against the winner, incumbent Speaker John Boehner. Progressives are probably sad that more tea partiers in Congress didn't follow Labrador's lead. Twenty-seven more abstainers would have elected Democrat Nancy Pelosi speaker. We'd like to see Labrador explain that at the next "liberty" rally.

CHEERS to Idaho Falls Police Chief Steve Roos. In Sunday's newspaper, Post Register President Jerry Brady disagreed with a column Roos had written about the shooting in Newtown, Conn.

Here's how Roos responded in an email to Brady:

"I liked the tone of your column in disagreeing with my position. It's good to have a respectful discussion providing a variety of opinions."

Today is Roos' last day on the job. The response you just read is very much representative of the man we have come to know: honest, well-intended, open and able to take criticism. We thank Roos for his service and wish him well in his future endeavors. His will be big shoes to fill.

CHEERS to Sen. Jeff Siddoway,

R-Terreton, who obviously understands that it's worth spending a few more bucks to produce clean energy. Part of the fiscal cliff bill was a reviving of a wind energy tax credit. Said Siddoway to the Post Register's Alex Stuckey: "(Society has) its green hat on, so I think it's going to be necessary to (use the subsidy) as a start-up (for wind). I think we're still really in the infancy in the wind industry."

Sounds about right to us.

Corey Taule