Here's my first-impressions look at the high, low, and mixed points of Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne's seventh (and last) State of the State speech and budget address, delivered tonight to a joint session of the state legislature.
Wise and diversified use of the state's $214 million surplus. Kempthorne suggests putting some into the state's rainy-day fund, some into the permanent building fund, and giving some back to state residents via a $50-a-person emergency relief check to help Idahoans pay this winter's surging energy bills.
Community drug treatment programs. Finally, the state may figure out there's an alternative to putting every lawbreaker - including meth moms - in prison. DK said 85% of the state's prisoners have a substance abuse problem, so this is a start toward addressing both the lack of available treatment and rehabilitation and soaring prison populations.
Raises for state employees, and for starting-teacher salaries. About time, on both fronts. Idaho's veteran teachers are paid pretty well, but starting salaries are still below $30K - and state employees haven't had a decent raise in years.
A moving salute to the troops, which featured the Gov awarding four purple hearts to Idahoans injured in Iraq.
Egregious lack of leadership on the property tax issue. Idaho used to have a three-legged-stool tax system (sales, income, property), but the property tax system hasn't been modified since the 1980s and it's now badly out of whack. DK suggested raising and expanding the circuit breaker for the state's poorest residents, but made no mention of other possible solutions (expanding the homeowners exemption, conferring local option tax authority) and - worse - suggested that property tax reform isn't really the state's problem.
Inadequate response to education facilities funding issue. Again, Kempthorne gave the legislature cover to do little to address this issue, suggesting only that the super-majority for school bond passage be lowered to 60%, if voters approve that change. That's a start, but more creative ideas will be needed to address the state's school facilities funding methods, which the state Supreme Court recently declared to be unconstitutional. These ideas won't be coming from the governor's office (nor, we suspect, the GOP-dominated legislature).
No questioning of how misplaced federal priorities (an unfounded war, inadequately supplied troops, lack of education funding, tax cuts favoring the wealthy) continue to hamper Idaho's ability to address its most pressing problems, including soaring Medicaid costs, unfunded education mandates, and stop-loss military deployments that sap the strength of our families and businesses.
No thoughts on future energy policies that would help create long-term solutions to the energy cost crisis. Where are the calls for local option public transit taxing authority? For renewable and clean energy (and economic) development, a la Democratic-led Montana?
No mention of the deteriorating ethical climate that the state has seen under lopsided GOP rule.
Kempthorne wants a stronger community college system, but offered few specifics on how he'd pay for it. Ditto the Medicaid reform proposal, which threatens to pit low-income kids against disabled people and the elderly to see who remains eligible. (Who has the better lobbyists?)
State parks improvements are a good idea, but DK's six-park plan (plus one major new one built from scratch) may be too ambitious at a time when Idaho faces many other needs.
What did you think of the speech and Kempthorne's plans for his final year in office?