Is the Idaho Legislature really conservative? Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, says it is. And he probably believes it, too. Hill recently told a columnist, “We have a very conservative Legislature, and I would put that up against any legislature in the nation.”
As my old friend Ralph Smeed would say, “Interesting, if true.” As concerns the Idaho Legislature, it’s interesting — but not true. Don’t just take my word for it. Let the record speak for itself.
While other legislatures across the country pass school choice innovations that allow students to go to the school that best fits their needs, Idaho sits still. A proposal to let dollars follow students to the school of their choice can’t get a hearing. Meanwhile, lawmakers are poised to return to the old liberal standby: shovel more money into the public school system without a single expectation for a return on learning investment.
Wait, there’s much more. Lawmakers are refusing a hearing on a bill that would end a lucrative retirement perk they get when they trade their elective office for a government job. Another bill that would stop legislators from accepting big gifts and trips from lobbyists and special interests also can’t get a hearing.
A bill that would allow Idahoans to carry concealed weapons without a permit is failing to advance. Yes, yet another year is likely to pass without any movement on this issue.
A proposal to crack down on food stamp fraud was shot down, without a hearing. A proposal to stop new regulations and taxes on plastic bags is stalled and can’t get a Senate committee hearing.
A measure to allow horsemen in Idaho to save their industry by reviving historical horseracing — banned by lawmakers last year — has been blocked.
House Republicans have advanced the measliest tax break imaginable — a reduction in the top marginal tax rate from 7.4 to 7.3 percent — but Senate Republicans won’t commit to taking up the proposal. The most popular idea in the state, the elimination of the sales tax on groceries, is being denied a hearing.
So, what is on the Legislature’s docket? A lot of creation. The Legislature is creating a new government-run health care program, which would put 78,000 people on its rolls. It’s creating a costly new scholarship program for adults who didn’t finish their college degrees. Legislators are creating new licenses for certain jobs. Further, they’re regulating even more industries in the private sector and placing restrictions on business hiring decisions through so-called “Add the Words” proposals. Furthermore, legislators are growing state spending by 8.5 percent and kowtowing to federal edicts.
Liberals are smiling. No wonder.
The only real bright spots this session are found in a bill that would prevent local governments from passing minimum wage ordinances and a bill to require an analysis of fire dangers on public lands.
The story that the Idaho Legislature is conservative is, well, a story. Most Idahoans aren’t interested in being told a story. They’re interested in actual results and real examples of limited government and the promotion of free enterprise.
To air a little optimism, the legislative session has a few weeks yet to go. There’s time to turn things around, to lead with conservative solutions that matter to a state, a country, looking for such leadership. But, for right now, with due respect to Senator Hill, conservative ideas are as likely to be spotted passing through Bernie Sanders’ head as they are to be found passing through the Idaho Legislature.