During last fall’s election campaign, United Vision of Idaho invited legislative candidates to a forum.
Predictably, quite a few Democratic candidates spoke at the forum. Only one Republican, Dan Loughrey from District 17, spoke that evening. A few people told Dan that he should stay away from that forum and not speak to those “liberals.”
Dan spoke, and he presented a different perspective from the Democrats. But he was treated well, the audience listened and he received polite applause.
It’s easy for conservatives to dismiss United Vision because of the stark contrast of opinions about the role that government should play in today’s society. But I’ll give the group credit for having heart and compassion for people who have gotten lost in the shuffle.
So here’s United Vision’s response to Gov. Otter’s State-of-the-State message on Monday:
“United Vision for Idaho, a coalition comprised of over nineteen Idaho nonprofits, convened a joint session attended by The National Association of Social Workers, Idaho Community Action Network, The Interfaith Alliance, The Human Rights Education Center, the AFL-CIO, SEIU, the Idaho Association of Government Employees, Boise Central Trades, Eastern Idaho Central Trades, Church Women United, Catholic Charities of Idaho, and others to evaluate the Governor’s State of the State and Budget Address, and issue a response to the address and the agenda put forth for the 2011 legislative session.
We found that content of the speech largely ignored the real history of how this country was built, and ignored the role that people, not industry have played in the making of some of our greatest achievements. In fact, the greatest successes we have enjoyed as a people and a nation have resulted from the public and private sector working together, state and federal government working hand-in-hand.
For what was put forth in Governor Otter’s Speech, we did not hear new ideas to generate revenue for our state. We did not hear the governor discuss ways to capture tax on online services that would generate millions of dollars for our state. We did not hear the mention about the effects reduced services would place on our hospitals and police or prisons, nor the revenue that is lost to Idaho under a privatized prison system. We did not hear the Governor suggest a graduated income tax that would increase contributions from those who have benefited the most through industry, public infrastructure, and investments. Nor did we hear recommendations to close corporate loopholes and limit deductions. No reference was made to the failed policies of the past that has led Idaho from a budget surplus to the deficits we now face precisely through the willful, and continued policy of increasing business exemptions and cutting taxes. Instead, and amidst the underlying anti-government sentiment, as individuals we were told, we will simply have to do more with less.
The Idaho Constitution (Article 1) reads, and we contend that, government is instituted for our “equal protection and benefit.” Nonetheless, Governor Otter believes that our reliance on government constitutes failure and that we must free ourselves from the “soul crushing tyranny of entitlement”. But, for those who remember, when introduced, social security, like Healthcare today, was considered an “entitlement”. Governor Otter proposed cutting 25 Million dollars from Medicare, while whittling away at Health and Human Services. But if there is any real failing, it is in failing to recognize the consequences this would have on our children, our aging, our veterans, our disabled, hard working, struggling “families”, and entire communities throughout our state.
As Governor Otter spoke about the need for personal responsibility and ushered in a period of renewed sacrifice, he also spoke of rewarding big business. The reverence with which Governor Otter spoke about industry seemed to, at times award industry personal attribute any investments made as altruistic measures of “paying it forward.” Lest we forget, it was the public sector that put a man on the moon. It was the public sector that created our interstate highway system. And yes, the public sector invented the Internet, long before Google and Facebook could make a penny off it. It is the public sector that provides safety and security, ensures that the water we drink and the food we eat are safe. The public sector creates infrastructure, provides jobs, and ensures the health and security of our nation. And it is the private sector; small businesses, local providers, and individuals with the ability to bridle their ingenuity, innovation, and creativity, and by their investments have strengthened the fabric of our state and nation. All throughout America’s history, the public and the private sector have worked together to create opportunity.
Idaho’s unemployment rate is the highest it’s been in a decade. At a minimum wage, a full-time worker earns 54% of what is needed to afford a two-bedroom home at a Fair Market Rate anywhere in the U.S. Idaho is ranked fifteenth in the nation for senior risk of hunger. Idaho has seen a 21% increase in homelessness since 2009. Twenty-four percent of homeless people are children under the age of 18. Thirteen percent of homeless people in Idaho are veterans, and approximately 43% are families.
Nearly half of all Idaho seniors are at risk for food insecurity. Forty-seven percent of clients receiving emergency food assistance report having to choose between paying for food or paying for utilities or heating fuel, and 34% reported having to choose between paying for food and paying for rent or mortgage.
Forty-five percent of children in Idaho benefit from the National School Lunch Program. 20.9% of people on food stamps are children and 110,140 Idaho children were on food stamps in 2009. The majority of people served by Medicaid are children, and an average of 121,137 Idaho children are enrolled each month. On average, 73% of Medicaid costs are covered by federal dollars, and regardless of the economic model, all studies show Medicaid spending has had a positive impact on state economies.
These are not political issues, but moral imperatives and how we choose to proceed will define our character, our state, and our nation. How we face these challenges will depend on how much we value the programs and services on which we have come to rely. We believe we must work together to change the system which has become skewed to disadvantage the majority while awarding privilege to the very few. That we must protect public schools, ensure access to higher education, preserve and protect vital social services, like Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare. We believe we must invest in small businesses and new infrastructure to create new and good paying jobs. And in our efforts to build strong, vibrant communities, we must act to prevent unprecedented foreclosures and homelessness, create sustainable food programs to eliminate hunger and poverty. In fact, we believe it is our responsibility to do so.
We understand that a tremendous number of challenges await, and the answers are not always easy. But, we also understand how much is at stake for Idahoans all throughout our state. Though our Governor told us today that there would be no moral victories and that the goal was to make the least bad decisions for our state, we believe we can and must do better!”