If Idaho lawmakers are to be held accountable for the things they claim to stand for--conservative, free market principles--they're going to have a tough time explaining to their constituents what they've been up to all these months. The record is far from stellar.
In some respects, this session produced a fewer number of awful bills. But the bills that were awful were breathtaking in their awfulness. Idaho lawmakers refused to give broad tax relief and opted to spend too much, continuing a trend of several years of excessive spending. No wonder their only perceived choice to pay for highway and bridge infrastructure needs was to raise taxes and fees on Idahoans.
The money they could have had to pay for road construction was squandered away. That gave lawmakers an excuse to balk at tax relief. A plan to cut the state's excruciatingly high income tax rates and get rid of the grocery tax got nowhere with the state Senate.
The state Legislature approved two new regulatory boards that will make it harder for people to enter the marketplace and earn a living. The first, a bill requiring sign language interpreters to be licensed, will increase costs and create shortages. A separate bill requiring licenses for genetic counselors will mean higher medical costs and reduce access to professionals.
A bill to ban kids from using tanning beds passed because Republicans got behind it, and that means so-called conservative members of the Legislature decided their judgment is superior to that of parents. A bill to create new wage tiers for teachers passed; it proposes to spend millions more on education but it shuts out new, creative, entrepreneurial teachers while unwittingly creating disincentives for educators to work with struggling students.
The Senate refused to consider a House-passed bill that would eliminate a special retirement perk for state lawmakers. That mean legislators can continue to vie for lucrative government jobs to cap off their lawmaking careers.
Lawmakers gave no consideration whatsoever to legislation that would get the state out of Common Core education standards. They refused to hear a bill that would allow law-abiding Idahoans to conceal-carry weapons without needing special permission from the government. A bill to end the state's prohibition on Black Friday sales went nowhere.
On the other hand, legislators deserve applause for resisting the temptation to expand Medicaid. They said no a minimum wage increase. And they didn't add new words to the state Human Rights Act.
I'm excited about a new law requiring open meetings when city officials negotiate contracts with labor unions. Lawmakers also passed a bill to require state agencies to account for all their federal dollars and make contingency plans should the federal money dry up. And they passed a bill to allow free market ride share companies like Uber to operate without new, additional government intervention.
Still, with an overwhelming majority of legislators claiming to support free markets, limited government, low taxes, fiscal conservatism and individual responsibility, so much of what the Legislature passed does not sync with their rhetoric.
The results are far from a meteoritic embrace of free market, limited government principles. Idaho lawmakers once again favored the nanny state, the regulatory state, the high-tax state as we've come to expect, much to the chagrin of those of us who know we can and should do so much better.
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