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Education, taxes, and medical debt: Selecting legislators at random starts to have merit 

Education, taxes, and medical debt: Selecting legislators at random starts to have merit 

Wayne Hoffman
February 21, 2020
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February 21, 2020

H.L. Mencken once suggested that legislative seats be filled at random instead of by election. Admittedly, Mencken wrote that doing so might result in the selection of idiots. But, he said, “No matter how stupid they were, they could not be more stupid than the average legislator under the present system. Certainly, they'd be measurably more honest, taking one with another.” Here are some random musings from the last several days of Idaho lawmaking that makes Mencken’s proposal seem brilliant.

On education:

  • The Senate passed a bill to require elected school board trustees undergo mandatory training, conducted by the State Board of Education, whose members are not similarly mandated to undergo training and barely have a handle of their own on Idaho’s K-12 and higher education system. 
  • Gov. Brad Little unveiled a  proposal to spend another quarter of a billion dollars over the next five years for teacher pay. It’ll probably pass. But we all know it isn’t going to improve Idaho’s public schools unless making public schools more expensive counts as improvement. 
  • The Senate passed a resolution asking Idaho’s education institutions to offer students courses on personal finance. Given that some school districts can’t balance their own budget without begging for tax increases, and the debt and money problems that Boise State University and the University of Idaho have amassed in recent years, students aren’t the only ones who might benefit from such classes. 
  • The liberal news media went  apoplectic when the House Education Committee pushed back against plans to spend $1 million on the latest education fad, “social-emotional learning.” But the committee is correct to be worried: The program is another part of a social justice agenda that feeds on self-loathing and victimhood, and steals resources from legitimate classroom lessons. 
  • Hey, Superintendent Ybarra: Maybe our kids would be emotionally better off  if the education system stopped the daily fear mongering over guns, global warming, gender, and other leftist obsessions that are traumatizing kids. 

As concerns the House Business Committee’s vote in favor of billionaire Frank Vandersloot’s bill to regulate medical-debt collectors out of existence to protect those who don’t pay their bills:

  • One would not expect a liberal Idaho Democrat legislator to abandon his or her ideology and suddenly vote for free markets. But self-proclaimed conservative Republicans abandoning free markets for statism? Not surprising.  
  • When legislators declare a bill to be a free market solution, there’s a high probability it isn’t.
  • Never has the Legislature passed a bill to increase regulations on healthcare or health insurance that made either more affordable. Vandersloot’s bill is no exception. 
  • Legislators will routinely vote in favor of a problematic bill with a promise that they will “come back later and fix it.” That promise is almost never kept. 
  • A newspaper editor once told me “anecdotes make for great news stories but terrible legislation.” She was right.

On property taxes:

  • The House continues to wait on a plan that simply would have local governments spend exactly what they spent last year. Why? A freeze on spending is quite possibly the least the Legislature could ask of cities, counties, and other taxing districts, yet for some reason, lawmakers remain timid about challenging local governments and their lobbyists. 
  • At this point, too few legislators want to talk about other drivers of tax increases: urban renewal, special property tax breaks, and rising pension costs.
  • Democrats have a legitimate gripe that House leadership won’t allow a hearing on their property tax proposals. But let’s be honest: The Democrats aren’t trying to cut taxes; they’re trying to preserve the ability of local government to spend us into oblivion by paying off select property owners at the expense of  businesses, consumers, and renters.

There’s one more reason why Mencken’s theory of randomly-selecting legislator has merit. He wrote: “There would be the great advantage that all of them had got their jobs unwillingly, and were eager, not to spin out their sessions endlessly, but to get home as soon as possible.”

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