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Esto perpetua,meet primum non nocere

Marty Trillhaase
January 6, 2013
Lewiston Tribune

As 105 Idaho lawmakers launch their 2013 session Monday, let this be their guiding principle: primum non nocere - first, do no harm.

Shouldn't they have learned that lesson already? Last November, ordinary Idahoans repealed - by wide margins - school Superintendent Tom Luna's 2011 assault on teacher collective bargaining rights, imposition of merit pay and transfer of support from the classroom to purveyors of educational technology.

Beyond Luna's laws, that rebuke extended to the heavy-handed methods he and his legislative allies employed.

So show caution. Be conservative. Respect the voters. Serve their interests. Beware the ideologues, Statehouse special interests and Capitol insiders.

* Education reform - Follow Gov. C.L. (Butch) Otter's offer to defer action for a year while the State Board of Education seeks a consensus-based reform agenda.

Resist the impulse to vindictively pull money meant to implement Luna's merit pay and other programs from the schools budget. Idaho's underfunded public education network needs every dime.

* Taxes - Do you see an extra $140 million lying around? Didn't think so. Yet the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry is making a nakedly greedy push to repeal the personal property tax businesses pay on equipment.

Without money in the state budget to replace those dollars, repeal could mean gutting county, city and school programs. Or worse yet, it could lead to shifting a greater tax burden on homeowners and small businesses.

Because industrial equipment isn't equally dispersed across the state, some areas will get nailed. Caribou County in eastern Idaho stands to lose 43 percent of its tax base. Plummer could forfeit 46 percent of its property tax revenues. Lewiston schools could lose about a fifth of the money raised through property taxes.

Why not swap business taxes? In exchange for repealing personal property taxes, impose a sales tax on new equipment purchases. Repeal the investment tax credit or the corporate income tax rate cuts passed last year.

Or implement the partial personal property tax repeal passed in 2008 but placed on hold since the recession began. Giving businesses a $100,000 break in each county where they own property is much cheaper - about $21.5 million - and it would cover most of the small firms in the state.

* Obamacare - The Supreme Court upheld it. The voters re-elected President Obama. The time for obstructionism has passed. Continuing on that path only hurts Idaho citizens.

If the federal government operates a health insurance exchange for Idaho, it will undermine state health insurance carriers, impose new burdens on health care providers and drive up costs for individuals and small businesses.

Hence Otter has reluctantly called for an Idaho-based exchange.

Equally compelling is expanding Medicaid to low-income adults as Obamacare contemplates. To do otherwise imposes a $30 million yearly burden on state and local taxpayers. The public already pays 100 percent of the medical bills of the same people through Idaho's indigent program. Under Medicaid, Idahoans would pay no more than 10 percent.

* Transportation - Now there's a topic you've heard nothing about since GOP lawmakers humiliated Otter in 2009. But Idaho's network of highways and bridges continues to decay. Wait another year to raise fuel taxes and registration fees and you're operating in another election cycle. To say nothing of running the risk that Congress will raise the federal gas tax, further boxing in Idaho's lawmakers.


That's not asking for much.

Is it?

Originally posted at

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