(Note: This is the first part of a two-part series on ideas submitted by Idaho citizens to a state government efficiency site. Part 2 will be released Sunday. Today’s story deals with the most common ideas submitted.)
On Nov. 13, 2009, Governor Butch Otter asked citizens of Idaho to “walk at least a few steps in the shoes of policymakers” and submit ideas to a new efficiency website to help state government find ways to cut costs and save money. As of Jan. 15, 2010, the site had received 470 responses, though not all ideas are unique from one another.
As IdahoReporter.com reviewed citizen's submissions, there seemed to emerge common themes among respondents. People were most concerned with the levels of compensation for state employees and elected officials (the upper echelons of government in particular), the amount of school districts in the state, and how inmates are treated at state correctional facilities.
The most prevalent idea was for all state officials, both general employees and elected officials, to take some kind of pay cut. Most pay cut plans favored an across the board cut of 5 to 10 percent. The most extreme submissions called on the governor to work for $1 a year, which, one citizen said, would help improve state morale.
“Many CEOs take this route to show support to their employees and shareholders,” wrote Dr. Matthew Sell of Boise. Other proposals from citizens included Otter cutting his pay in half or indexing his pay to the struggling economy.
Another hot topic on the efficiency list is the idea of district consolidation by the Idaho Department of Education. Those who mentioned consolidation were irked by the number of districts in each county, specifically in and around the Idaho Falls area, which has two schools districts covering one city, and Bingham County, also in the eastern part of the state, which has three. Advocates for this measure decry the layers of administration and associated costs found in the extra districts.
“It’s better to lose a cherished football rivalry than to continue to lose talented teachers because we can’t pay them enough to live on,” wrote Michael Crawford of Mountain Home.
Melissa McGrath, spokesperson for the department, said state education superintendent Tom Luna is looking at the idea very seriously, but needs more time to consider all the state’s option. McGrath said Luna may have some answers and a plan on the issue when he reports to the Joint Finance Appropriations Committee on Jan. 28.
Gary Howard, of Emmett, had a slightly different idea: “Principals administer more than one school, say three per district.” Howard said he knows the idea will put added pressure on administrators and staff, but he feels it is necessary to cut funds to non-teaching educational positions.
The other most common idea on the list is to alter how Idaho treats convicted criminals, but among those calling for changes, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Many respondents felt the state should do more to assess the needs of convicted persons and determine if long-term incarceration is the best solution. Others favored quick, yet effective, jail terms, supplemented by rehab and state supervision, which costs much less than incarceration. Those in favor of supervision generally also supported allowing low-level and non-violent offenders, such as someone jailed for simple marijuana possession, to be released from prison and put on the same system.
Others suggested more dramatic manners for the Idaho Department of Corrections to cut costs, including forcing inmates to work on prison farms, thin state forests, and cook and can food items to help establish a self-supporting system. One person even called for prisoners divided into thirds with each third sleeping an eight-hour shift. The plan would allow prisons to reduce the overall number of beds.
Update: Read part 2 of our story on the governor's efficiency website here.