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Reader Comment: Signs of a bright future

How are buying the wrong Christmas lights a sign of a bright future? You’d be surprised. Last week, I bought a string of 50 Christmas lights at a store in Boise. But when I took them out of the box at home, there was no plug to plug them in. Instead, they operated on two AA batteries.

This may not seem like anything earth-shattering, but it is significant. A decade ago, battery-operated Christmas lights would have been a joke. Incandescent lights of that era would have burned through two AA batteries by the first chorus of “Jingle Bells.” But now we have LED lights, which use a tiny fraction of energy. To put it in perspective, it is estimated that lighting a six-foot tree for 12 hours a day for 40 days with LED lights would burn 27 cents of electricity — using incandescents, the bill would be $10. In other words, we are lighting up our neighborhoods using less energy.

We’re also doing things with non-carbon energy that didn’t seem possible just years ago. This year, the International Energy Agency announced the global capacity to generate renewable energy has overtaken coal. We are doing more with renewables than ever, which puts us on a path of reducing the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in an effort to slow climate change. That lofty goal closer to reality than ever before.

And Conservation Voters for Idaho will remain on front line of public policies that encourage the development of renewable energy. It’s our ticket into the future, a future that looks brighter every single day.

Idaho View: Idaho must invest in areas of high return

This appeared in the Idaho Press-Tribune:

As veteran members of the Idaho Legislature will say, there are two times when serving in the Statehouse is the most challenging: when the state is in an economic recession or when there’s a fat surplus. Recessions leave no real options other than to cut spending, while a surplus opens the floodgates to ideas.

Gov. Butch Otter and Rep. Brent Crane of Nampa, the House assistant majority leader, have lived through the best and worst of times during their political careers. But there are distinct differences in how the two have responded to the ebb and flow of state revenues.

Otter has shown the ability to adjust his thought pattern according to the changing times; Crane has not. But as legislators ponder what to do with a projected $139 million revenue surplus, Otter and Crane are setting the stage for an interesting legislative session next year.

Crane told reporters last week that House Republicans are looking to tax cuts “the first thing out of the box.”

“We feel like it’s time that we give some of the money back to the citizens that have been paying the bill,” he said in an article written by the Spokesman-Review’s Betsy Russell. He talked about efforts to buy down the tax rate “a tenth at a time,” further cuts in the personal property tax which businesses pay for inventory and increasing the property tax exemption.

Otter has said tax cuts are not on his radar and that his primary focus would be in education — which in our view is the right priority. Still, there are some House members who think taxes should be reduced and no doubt welcome Crane’s comments. They’ll be making plenty of noise about the issue, with encouragement from the conservative-based Idaho Freedom Foundation. So the political battle looms.

Otter and Crane came into their respective offices during the most trying of economic times — when the state’s economy was tanking and state revenues were falling. Otter, with the help of legislators such as Crane, did the best that could be done during those trying times. Funding for public schools was slashed, and higher education was hardly an after-thought. Some healthcare programs were cut drastically or eliminated entirely. Roads and bridges were crumbling before our eyes, and Otter couldn’t even get through a 2-cent per gallon fuel tax to fund the roads.

But times have changed for the better, and Otter has adjusted accordingly — starting with a stronger commitment toward education. In his eyes, education holds the key to economic recovery and the filling of thousands of high-paying jobs that remain vacant because workers lack the skills that employers need.

Speaking at last week’s Nampa Chamber of Commerce legislative luncheon, Dwight Johnson, state administrator for career and technical education, said there will be an estimated 49,000-worker shortfall in skilled workers in Idaho.

At the same luncheon, House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, spoke philosophically about why you get what you get with a Republican-controlled Legislature: Conservative lawmakers, rather than just doling out money, look for the return on investment before committing to spending. When it comes to Crane’s proposal to cut taxes, apparently simply for the sake of cutting taxes, we fail to see how he makes the argument for a return on investment.

If Crane really is serious about cutting taxes, we suggest he bolster state funding of public education and let our school districts wean themselves off supplemental levies. Statewide, school district taxpayers are taxing themselves about $188 million collectively. Taxpayers have agreed to those tax increases over the past several years because they recognized that the education funding coming from the state was not sufficient to provide an adequate return on investment. So before we start talking about modest tax cuts at the state level, let’s work on getting rid of those supplemental levies.

As much progress that Otter has made in recent years, Idaho is at only the 2009 level of funding for education — which is hardly an impressive benchmark. A $139 million surplus won’t push Idaho to 2017 levels, but it would help. And it could help give a needed boost to programs that were cut back during the recession.

It also could allow Idaho to put more money into reserve accounts — which was done, amid criticism, before the recession and ended up saving the state from a financial hurricane during the recession.

Bedke points out that Idaho was able to weather the recession at all because, in part, the state pulled out about $400 million in savings to patch holes in the budget.

Rather than cut taxes, we would rather see the state continue to bolster rainy-day funds in preparation for the next monsoon.

We haven’t even touched on the subject of transportation needs, which as well has been short-changed and could still use an infusion of well-placed government spending. Has Interstate 84 in Canyon County gotten better yet?

Studies, including those from the Idaho State Tax Commission, itself, show Idaho’s state and local tax burden among the lowest in the country, among the lowest in the West region and among the “fairest” in the country, meaning the combination of sales, property, income and corporate taxes doesn’t burden any one taxpaying group disproportionately.

Further, Idaho has one of the fastest-growing economies — with the current tax structure.

We have to ask, with such high marks in terms of rate and fairness, why the push to fix what ain’t broke?

Ten years ago, Crane campaigned as a hardline fiscal conservative, and he has lived up to his end of the bargain — voting for the hard cuts that needed to be made during the recession. But he would be no less of a conservative by allowing the state to catch up a bit now that a more generous revenue picture is in place.

“Conservatism” is not a bad word in politics, especially Idaho politics. But as Otter and the likes of Bedke have shown, being “conservative” also means being practical and making smart investments that will yield a high rate of return. Areas such as education, transportation, workforce training and mental health clinics have a proven record of high rates of return. Now is not the time to starve them.



Krauthammer: The Trump Cabinet: Bonfire of the agencies

WASHINGTON — Democrats spent the first two decades of the post-Cold War era rather relaxed about Russian provocations and revanchism. President Obama famously mocked Mitt Romney in 2012 for suggesting that Russia was our principal geopolitical adversary. Yet today the Dems are in high dudgeon over the closeness of secretary of state nominee, Rex Tillerson, to Vladimir Putin.

Hypocrisy aside, it is true that, as head of Exxon Mobil, Tillerson made major deals with Russia, received Russia’s Order of Friendship and opposed U.S. sanctions. That’s troubling but not necessarily disqualifying. At the time, after all, Tillerson was acting as an agent of Exxon Mobil, whose interest it is to extract oil and make money.

These interests do not necessarily overlap with those of the United States. The relevant question is whether and how Tillerson distinguishes between the two and whether as agent of the United States he would adopt a tougher Russia policy than he did as agent of Exxon Mobil.

We don’t know. We shall soon find out. That’s what confirmation hearings are for.

The left has been in equally high dudgeon that other Cabinet picks appear not to share the mission of the agency which they have been nominated to head. The horror! As if these agency missions are somehow divinely ordained. Why, they aren’t even constitutionally ordained. The Department of Education, for example, was created by President Carter in 1979 as a payoff to the teachers’ unions for their political support.

Now, teachers are wonderful. But teachers’ unions are there to protect benefits and privileges, not necessarily to improve schooling. Which is why they zealously defend tenure, protect their public-school monopoly and reflexively oppose school choice.

Conservatives have the odd view that the purpose of schooling — and therefore of the Department of Education — is to provide students with the best possible education. Hence Trump’s nominee, Betsy DeVos, a longtime and passionate proponent of school choice, under whom the department will no longer be an arm of the teachers’ unions.

She is also less likely to allow the department’s Office for Civil Rights to continue appropriating to itself the role of arbiter of social justice, micromanaging everything from campus sexual mores to the proper bathroom assignment for transgender students. If the mission of this department has been to dictate policy best left to the states and localities, it’s about time the mission was changed.

The most incendiary nomination by far, however, is Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency. As attorney general of Oklahoma, he has joined or led a series of lawsuits to curtail EPA power. And has been upheld more than once by the courts.

Pruitt has been deemed unfit to serve because he fails liberalism’s modern-day religious test: belief in anthropogenic climate change. They would love to turn his confirmation hearing into a Scopes monkey trial. Republicans should decline the invitation. It doesn’t matter whether the man believes the moon is made of green cheese. The challenges to EPA actions are based not on meteorology or theology, but on the Constitution. The issue is that the EPA has egregiously exceeded its authority and acted as a rogue agency unilaterally creating rules unmoored from legislation.

Pruitt’s is the most important nomination because it is a direct attack on the insidious growth of the administrative state. We have reached the point where EPA bureaucrats interpret the Waters of the United States rule — meant to protect American waterways — to mean that when a hard rain leaves behind a pond on your property, the feds may take over and tell you what you can and cannot do with it. (The final rule excluded puddles — magnanimity from the Leviathan.)

On a larger scale, Obama’s Clean Power Plan essentially federalizes power generation and regulation, not coincidentally killing coal along the way. This is the administration’s end run around Congress’ rejection of Obama’s proposed 2009-2010 cap-and-trade legislation. And that was a Democratic Congress, mind you.

Pruitt’s nomination is a dramatic test of the proposition that agencies administer the law, they don’t create it. That the legislative power resides exclusively with Congress and not with a metastasizing administrative bureaucracy.

For some, this reassertion of basic constitutionalism seems extreme. If so, the Obama administration has only itself to blame. Such are the wages of eight years of liberal overreach. Some legislation, like Obamacare, will be repealed. Some executive orders will be canceled. But most important will be the bonfire of the agencies. We may soon be secure not just in our puddles but our ponds.