TWIN FALLS — Two leading Republican gubernatorial candidates addressed Magic Valley residents at the first Twin Falls City Club forum Monday afternoon, sharing their visions for the future of the region and the state of Idaho.
Lt. Gov Brad Little and business developer Tommy Ahlquist responded to questions from the audience on topics including health care, education and development in south-central Idaho. Absent from the event was U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, who was invited by organizers but did not attend.
Though the two candidates espoused similar stances on many of the issues discussed, Little emphasized his experience in office and familiarity with the Magic Valley area, while Ahlquist stressed the need for fresh faces and perspectives in government.
The forum was held at Canyon Crest Dining and Event Center and was moderated by Times-News publisher Travis Quast.
Both candidates said they would support a repeal of Idaho’s 6 percent sales tax on groceries, breaking from current Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, who vetoed legislation that would get rid of the grocery tax at the end of the last legislative session.
Little predicted that if similar legislation were to pass early on in the 2018 session, there would be enough votes in the legislature to override another veto.
Ahlquist said he would also like to see cuts in personal income tax, ideally dropping the 7.4 percent paid in the highest bracket down to around 5 percent.
“In this state, big business will be taken care of every time, rest assured,” Ahlquist said. “But it’s the small business owners, the families, that’s who we need to focus on every single time when we look at the way that tax policy affects our people.”
Both Ahlquist and Little said they would not cut funding for education, citing the importance of education and workforce development to economic growth in the state.
While both candidates voiced support for school choice in Idaho, Little cautioned against voucher programs that would detract significantly from funding for public schools.
“To throw the baby out with the bathwater and significantly take money away from K-12 is something I would not support,” Little said.
Neither candidate expressed support for a state-run preschool program.
In describing how he would make health care more accessible to Idahoans without coverage, Little pointed in part to an executive order he and Otter signed earlier this month that would let insurance companies create new health care plans that don’t have all the requirements of the Affordable Health Care Act.
Ahlquist said that rather than expand Medicaid to cover the 78,000 Idaho residents who do not have health insurance, he would work to increase transparency and bring the cost of medicine down.
“No more back room deals with one or two insurance companies,” Ahlquist said. “No more back room deals that allow the American people and the people of Idaho to have the joke played on them. It has to stop.”
To address the Idaho’s shortage of physicians, Little said he is in favor of a residency plan that would “sprinkle doctors all over the state.”
Ahlquist spoke of a “comprehensive plan” that would include residency programs and increased utilization of broadband telemedicine.
“I will be the first to admit I suffered from Treasure Valley-itis, which is a true medical condition in Idaho, before this election,” Ahlquist said, when asked about creating a new bridge or byway over the Snake River Canyon to connect the Magic Valley to the rest of the state.
He called for a comprehensive plan to cover the maintenance of current roads and bridges in Idaho, as well as future growth: “We need a plan not just to grow, but how we’re going to fund it.”
Little described the upkeep of current bridges and roads and the potential addition of a new bridge as a “safety issue.”
“If something happens to that bridge out there, it’s going to be a big darn deal for this valley,” he said. “I predict that, knowing my friends that are legislators and my friends here in the Magic Valley, that that will be on the next list of big projects.”
When asked what the candidates would do to protect urban renewal, Little praised the Magic Valley as “the poster child for how to do it right,” while advocating for bifurcation of the program.
Ahlquist described urban renewal as a “critical tool” for the Magic Valley and the rest of the state.
“But I’d love to see a toolbox that allows us to use it more effectively,” he added. “That’s what we need to start talking about.”
TWIN FALLS — Each year, some 300 high school students from across the valley converge on the College of Southern Idaho campus to compete in the first leg of the Business Professionals of America’s annual leadership conference.
Winners from the Jan. 15 regional competition will move on to the state competition in Boise; state winners will move on to the national competition in Dallas.
“It’s huge for the kids,” said third-year competition judge Dolores Maccabee. “I wish I’d had (the opportunity).”
And that’s what the competition is all about — giving students the opportunity to try out their business skills in a safe environment, “where there’s nothing to lose,” said Canyon Ridge High School business instructor Gayle Bean. Canyon Ridge has more students enrolled in the BPA program than any school in the state.
“I’ve seen extremely shy students go on to become state officers,” Bean said. The competition “gives them a chance to decide if they are more comfortable being a part of the team or a team leader.”
The scope of the program has evolved over its 52-year existence, as advanced technology and computers replaced more primitive business skills such as 10-key and shorthand.
The program now includes about 50 categories such as medical office procedures, video production, desktop publishing and computer network technology.
On Monday, Maccabee, a former international logistics manager, judged the entrepreneurship category, where students present business plans of make-believe companies as if they were applying for a real business loan.
“They pitch their idea with a profit-and-loss statement and balance sheet, as if I were a bank,” she said. “Then they ‘sell’ the idea to me.”
Volunteer judges include parents and local business owners.
Maccabee’s daughters, Hollie, a senior at Twin Falls High School, and Lara, a sophomore, will both advance to the state competition in March.
Hollie is her school’s BPA chapter president and was last year’s Idaho state president. She also competed in nationals in Boston and Orlando, Fla.
“I’ve had a lot of leadership opportunities within BPA,” she said. Hollie took first place Monday in two categories: advanced interview skills and presentation management.
In one presentation, Hollie showed how technology can increase security in businesses. Dan Brizee, of Brizee Heating and Air Conditioning, was interested and engaged in the topic.
“The judges build up our confidence,” Hollie said. “It’s a good atmosphere, and supportive. They want us to succeed.”
She said the program has made her a better speaker and gives her a better grasp of her subject.
Accounting student Meg Walker of Kimberly agreed. The program enhances her understanding, she said.
“It also helps with problem solving,” said Walker’s friend Ellery Johnson, also of Kimberly.
Hollie also assisted competition organizer and TFHS chapter advisor Lorraine Rapp.
“Lorraine’s program is very successful,” Dolores Maccabee said. “Her kids are extremely well prepared.”
TWIN FALLS — A major rehabilitation project along Eastland Drive North and Pole Line Road is slated to begin this month — and it’ll continue throughout the spring and summer.
The City Council had previously approved the project that’ll rehabilitate Eastland Drive just north of Falls Avenue to Mountain View Drive on Pole Line Road. The construction will be paid for largely with a state grant because of the failing roadway. It should be complete by August.
But now, city staff have obtained agreements with developers and hope to get the go-ahead to make Eastland Drive a full five lanes from Falls Avenue to Pole Line Road. The City Council will consider the request at its meeting Tuesday.
“City staff did some research and recognized that only two parcels prevented the City from making Eastland Dr. a full five-land roadway from Falls to Pole Line,” the staff report said. “… Both the Twin Falls Rural Fire District and Amazing Grace Fellowship Inc. are willing to donate right-of-way to the public if the City is willing to build improvements.”
Normally, Twin Falls doesn’t pay for these types of road improvements but leaves it up to developers when the parcel becomes developed. But doing the work during the rehabilitation will save money and time — while increasing the capacity along Eastland Drive North.
While the rehabilitation is underway, drivers should expect significant delays, and at times, flaggers.
The City Council did not meet on Monday as usual this week because of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday. Its meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m. Tuesday at City Council Chambers, 203 Main Ave. E.
Also at the meeting, the Twin Falls Police Department and Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Office are asking the city for funds to purchase technology for their Special Investigations Unit. The unit investigates people who commit violent crimes through criminal organizations or gangs in the city and the county.
The Council will also consider: