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Reader Comment: Conservative budgeting 101

Folks tend to feel that government is wasteful, inefficient and generally irresponsible in using their taxpayer dollars. And some think anyone with a lick of business sense could quickly and easily clean up the mess and save a lot of money.

There are plenty of examples out there to support the first point — just look at the fiscal fiascos in Illinois. The way the federal government spends our money is irresponsible. But, as a small-businessman and experienced legislator, let me assure you that claims like that about Idaho’s government are only spoken by those who lack experience and the understanding about Idaho’s fiscally conservative leadership.

A governor can’t act alone. 105 legislators, who represent citizens in Idaho communities large and small, are equal and integral partners in the process. A governor needs to be judicious, thoughtful and work closely with our locally elected legislators.

All budget decisions are made jointly and collaboratively by the governor and the Legislature. In Idaho, we take pride in working together to find commonsense solutions. Governing is no different.

The Idaho Legislature’s budgeting processes have been successfully refined over many years to specifically ferret out and eliminate waste, inefficiency and extravagance. High public confidence and Idaho’s sterling credit rating is proof of the state’s responsible approach.

Claiming to have a magical solution to a problem that doesn’t really exist is an old political trick. But it lacks the thoughtful assessment, careful prioritization and healthy dose of reality that legislators employ to balance Idaho’s state budget every year. Remember, each legislator is elected by the voters.

The news media and every Idahoan should not settle for empty rhetoric and hollow promises — like vowing to cut $100 million from Idaho’s state budget in 100 days. $100 million cut. Easy to say. Not easy to execute. Where do you start? Education makes up 63 percent of states budget, does that mean $63 million cut to education?

Regardless of the political bluster and posturing, let’s consider some of the realities that Idaho would face if $100 million were suddenly slashed from our state budget without due deliberation:

You could cut $100 million from public schools, but that would erase virtually all the progress made by the Legislature this year on improving teacher pay and educational opportunities for Idaho children.

You could cut all state funding for community colleges and career technical education and save $106 million, but that would be a slap in the face to Idaho employers who desperately need more educated, trained and skilled workers.

You could cut the Department of Water Resources and save almost $20 million, but you also would be eliminating important water management programs including aquifer recharge.

You could cut the Idaho State Police and save almost $30 million, but there would be no troopers patrolling the highways or state support for local law enforcement.

Understanding the costs and the implications of cutting the budget is just as important as carefully deciding how taxpayer dollars are spent. Fortunately for Idaho taxpayers, their legislators utilize such a responsible, open and deliberative public process.

The bottom line: Anyone calling for quick and dramatic cuts to Idaho’s state budget — whether for political advantage or because they don’t understand how things work — is not ready to govern.

Other view: Trump's dangerous folly

This appeared in Saturday’s Washington Post.

In an act of political vanity and geopolitical folly, President Donald Trump has made one of the most serious national security challenges facing the United States, that of Iran, considerably worse. His announcement Friday that he would report to Congress that the Islamic republic is not meeting the terms of the 2015 multinational accord limiting its nuclear program flouted the reports of international inspectors, the unanimous counsel of his national security team and the appeals of key U.S. allies. His threat to terminate the agreement if Congress and America’s allies do not meet his demands for revisions could easily lead to Iran’s resumption of a race toward nuclear weapons—a dangerous course that the deal brokered by the Obama administration succeeded in arresting.

The nuclear accord is flawed, including sunset provisions that remove restrictions on Iranian nuclear activities beginning eight years from now. But Trump’s hyperbolic claim that the deal is “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into” is belied by the fact that the regime has gone from being less than a year away from being able to produce a nuclear device, according to U.S. intelligence estimates, to having a fraction of the necessary material, and that under close international monitoring. The president’s contention that Iran is guilty of “multiple violations of the agreement” is belied by eight reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency as well as statements by his secretaries of state and defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Trump’s advisers persuaded him not to withdraw from the accord directly, but instead to send the matter to Congress, which must vote within 60 days on whether to restore U.S. sanctions on Iran. But the president set a trap by vowing to terminate the deal if Congress did not impose new requirements on Iran, including an end to the sunset provisions. Any U.S. attempt to unilaterally revise the accord is doomed; it will be rejected not just by Iran but also by the other parties to the deal, including Russia, China and the European Union.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, says he will introduce amendments meant to satisfy Trump; he told us that “we have no intention of passing a piece of legislation that violates” the accord. But Democrats, including some who were critical of the original Iran deal, are understandably dubious. Sen. Benjamin Cardin, Md., the senior Democrat on the committee, vowed “not [to] buy into the false premise that it is Congress’s role to legislate solutions to problems of [Trump’s] own making.”

Trump promised additional action to address the non-nuclear threats posed by Iran, including its interventions in Iraq and Syria. The administration is justified in imposing sanctions on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. But it appears to have no clear plan to address Iran’s military entrenchment in Syria, which is threatening to touch off a new conflict with Israel. Rather than tackling those urgent challenges, Trump prefers to renounce the legacy of his political nemesis Barack Obama and thereby reopen the one front where Tehran is currently contained. North Korea will take note: The United States cannot be trusted to stick to any nuclear accord.

Stapilus: Why Ahlquist might lose

I’ve taken to describing the already long-running Idaho Republican primary for governor as “fluid,” meaning that it’s yet to be won, that campaigning will matter, and a number of important constituencies are not nailed down.

With three major candidates in the race – Lt. Gov. Brad Little, Rep. Raul Labrador and businessman Tommy Ahlquist—there are nine plausible outcomes, as each of the three realistically could come in first, second or third. The dynamics are intriguing to watch, though maybe agonizing to be a part of.

To highlight some of the pieces in play, I thought I’d direct this column, and the next one, to two alternative prospects, about one of the candidates—whose fortunes seem the least predictable of the three—and consider what might result in his top-ranked win or last-place loss.

That candidate would be Ahlquist, the Boise downtown and metro developer, a newcomer to Idaho—after background as a physician in Salt Lake City—and at present a highly active campaigner. The next paragraphs consider why he might come in third; wait a week for why he might come in first.

He could lose partly for reasons so many businessman candidates for higher office—who have little or no experience running for or serving in office—do. Politics can look easy; he’s been a success in complex business (and other) spheres, so running for office should be a piece of cake, right? In fact, the skill sets for candidates and for many other things, including business leaders and physicians, are distinct. In some people they overlap, but often they don’t. Cecil Andrus was a highly effective campaigner and governor, but he didn’t light the world afire as a businessman. The skill sets were different. Sometimes the stronger the skill set is in one area, the less well they transfer to a different arena.

Compared to many gubernatorial candidates, Ahlquist is not a long-timer in Idaho. He has been civicly active in recent years, but his ties are recent. Little and Labrador have connections and networks built over decades (in Little’s case, over many generations). Both have been able to draw on extensive campaign structures, fundraising, community help, volunteers and much more, created over a long time; Ahlquist had to start from scratch.

Ahlquist is less well known around Idaho than his competitors, and generally has polled well behind them. That can be a solvable problem; name identification can be built in the way he has been developing it, through ads, news reports, campaigning and so on. But there are other problems associated with being a newcomer.

Little and Labrador have established identities. Those don’t work completely in their favor, but they do carry the advantage amounting to a known quantity: A level of trust in knowing who this guy is. (Some aspects of that problem, such as Ahlquist’s past support for some Democratic candidates, already have emerged.) Ahlquist has yet to be fully defined. He’s working on it, but much of that kind of definition is (as ever) not fully within his control. And, as Georgia Democrat Jon Ossoff probably could tell you, too much advertising will wear on people over time; it can start to grate, even if it’s well done.

Ahlquist has supporters around Idaho, but he’s overwhelmingly identified with Boise—not necessarily the best place in the state to be overwhelmingly identified with.

And who or what is Ahlquist’s base? Little has the establishment Republican base (which, remember, did extremely well in the 2014 Republican primaries), and may be augmented by crossover independents and Democrats. Labrador has a well-established, and substantial, activist base, notably in the first congressional district. Where is Ahlquist coming from? Is he seeking out the Donald Trump-oriented support? Or something else? Remember, in the 2016 presidential, Ahlquist was a backer of Marco Rubio, not Donald Trump. We haven’t heard the last of that.

And there’s more. But there’s also a flip side: Ahlquist could win this primary. Next week I’ll get into why that might happen.