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Legislature dropped the ball in not reviewing Workforce Development Fund

Legislature dropped the ball in not reviewing Workforce Development Fund

Wayne Hoffman
April 7, 2014

I’ve reached a conclusion that lawmakers have all the passion for real answers that O.J. Simpson had in his quest for “the real killer.”

Let me back up for just a moment: Imagine that your car isn’t working right. More than half the time you press on the brakes, the car doesn’t slow down. This is concerning. You call your friendly neighborhood mechanic. “There are risks involved, so we need to take a closer look,” the mechanic tells you. Fine. You take your car in. You park it at the shop. And the car sits there. For 74 days.

You finally pick up your car. Nothing’s happened with it. No repairs. No review. Nada. Your mechanic seems to look the other way as you nervously drive the car back to your house. Two weeks later, the mechanic calls you. What he says shocks you: “We need to have a thorough look at it.”

You might now exclaim, “Are you kidding me?!” And you’d be within your rights to do so. And I’m doing so today.

Prior to the start of the 2014 legislative session, lawmakers were told about disturbing broken programs that deserved some kind of thorough review. Example: the Workforce Development Fund, which has wasted millions of taxpayer dollars on failed investments, and of which the state Department of Commerce has acknowledged the program is just 42 percent effective.

Lawmakers agreed the Legislature should conduct a review. And it was people like Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, who said, “There are risks involved, so we need to take a closer look.” Other legislators made similar pronouncements.

The Workforce Development Fund was “in the shop” for 74 days. That’s the length of time the Legislature was in session. All state programs are technically “in the shop” when the Legislature is in town. It’s an opportunity for the legislative branch to review functions of government, to kick the tires, ask tough questions and get critical answers. Several lawmakers called for legislative review of the Workforce Development Fund prior to the session. During the session, no one did anything.

Yet two weeks after adjournment, suddenly lawmakers are asking questions.

IdahoReporter.com noted recently that the program has been shown to spend $10 million on “ineffective and inconclusive projects” since 1996. Reps. Tom Loertscher and Steve Hartgen are now calling for a review. “We need to have a thorough look at it,” said Loertscher, chairman of the House State Affairs Committee.

And it’s not just this program either. Prior to the session, several lawmakers were up in arms over the fact that private lobbyists are getting to participate in the state’s public pension system alongside government employees. “We oughta do something about that,” legislators said. Then, over the course of 74 days, legislators suddenly had better things to do. Upon adjournment, legislators are again talking about the issue.

In fairness to Loertscher, Hartgen and other legislators, there’s a lot going on during the course of a legislative session. But there are 105 legislators and two committees that exist to, in part, examine complex issues involving commerce programs and the operation of the state retirement system.

You’d think the failures of a taxpayer-funded program would be a priority. You’d think that private lobbyists suckling the teat of a taxpayer-subsidized pension program would merit just a modicum of scrutiny. You’d think the right time to talk about the issues and look for answers—to look for the “real killer” as it were—would be during a legislative session, not before and after.

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