Reader Comment: The time to cut the fat is now
READER COMMENT

Reader Comment: The time to cut the fat is now

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Idaho is flourishing. Let’s keep it that way by keeping state government small and cutting the fat from our budget. The Gem State is leading the nation in employment and wage growth, but just because we have the money doesn’t mean we need to spend it. Let’s rein in spending just like we’re already reining in onerous government regulations. We need to govern with a steady hand and hold the line on spending in these good times, so we have a funding cushion when the economy dips. The best way to do that is by changing the way state agencies budget, so we can cut ineffective and inefficient programs.

Idaho has made headlines across the nation recently for its massive cuts to burdensome regulations. We applaud Governor Brad Little’s drastic cuts to these needless rules, as he leads Idaho into an era of common sense state government. But, we can do better. Regulations are only part of the story.

Let’s extend our regulation cutting philosophy to our state’s finances. Just like we have done with our rules, we need to review the programs we fund to eliminate those that are outdated and ineffective. That’s just smart money management. We understand we can’t run our government exactly like a business, but we can and should run parts of it like a business. One of those parts is our state’s financial management. It’s called fiscal accountability.

Fiscal accountability in state government starts with the budgeting process. Here’s how it works… In Idaho, the 187 state agencies submit their budgets to the Governor’s office in the fall of each year. He reviews them and makes his own budget recommendations. In January of each year, the agencies’ requests and the Governor’s recommendations are presented to the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee (JFAC) for the committee’s consideration. After reviewing the agencies’ requests, JFAC often makes changes before it passes a budget bill for each agency to receive further consideration by both bodies of the legislature and ultimately the Governor.

We serve on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC) in the Idaho Legislature. The members of JFAC work very hard to address the State’s funding needs in a thoughtful and disciplined manner. One of our main goals is to eliminate spending that doesn’t give Idahoans the results you deserve. The best way to accomplish that is by state agencies budgeting like businesses. After reviewing hundreds of agency budgets over the last three years, we can tell you most agencies do not budget like businesses. That has to change. They must make an honest assessment of their programs. If the programs aren’t getting results for Idaho’s taxpayers, their funding has to be reallocated to programs that are. If we need to find funding for a new program, we should first look for ineffective programs we can eliminate to pay for it. It’s a big change that can mean big savings for Idaho.

Let’s be more disciplined in how we spend your money. Let’s lower the cost of government, without sacrificing the quality of services you deserve. There is no better time than now to cut the fat and thoughtfully fund our state’s growth.

Sens. Carl Crabtree and Jeff Agenbroad serve on the Idaho Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.

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Small news organizations in rural states aren’t often on the front line of broad public service journalism, but times are changing and one-or-two person shops can make a lot of difference in public awareness of issues if things come together.

A small outbreak of coronavirus at a Fry Foods plant in Weiser gives a prime example of the importance of testing for COVID-19. More than that, it represents a warning shot across the bow of potential pitfalls if we don’t reopen our economy the right way.

As we tiptoe through Stage 2 of Gov. Brad Little’s phased reopening plan and approach a more robust Stage 3, it’s going to become even more important that we take the necessary steps to prevent future outbreaks.

And there will be future outbreaks.

The fact remains that the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is still out there. It’s ready to strike again, and without a vaccine, it remains a potentially destructive and fatal disease.

Aggressive and quick testing remains one of the key elements — perhaps the most important element — of controlling outbreaks at this point.

Fry Foods offers an early case study.

The Weiser food processing plant employs 260 people to make onion rings and other food products. It shut down earlier this month when at least seven employees tested positive for the coronavirus.

Fry Foods initially didn’t test all 260 employees at the Weiser facility — only the 50 or 60 who likely came in contact with the employees who tested positive. Other employees were able to get tested on their own.

The Idaho Bureau of Laboratories (state run-laboratories) tested all that they had the capacity to do in one day, according to Kelly Petroff, director of communications for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. The state lab can do about has a testing capacity of approximately 200 tests per day.

“We are not prepared to handle this,” Doug Wold, human resources manager for Fry Foods, told the Idaho Statesman, referring to the lack of coordinated response. “If you don’t have an employer who’s willing to be proactive, we’re just going to fail.”

Fortunately, Crush the Curve Idaho, a private, business-led initiative established during the outbreak to increase testing, stepped in and tested every employee at Fry Foods.

By Tuesday of this week, 20 employees — about 8% of the plant’s workforce — had tested positive for the coronavirus, along with at least two of their family members. Nearly all were asymptomatic.

RAPID-RESPONSE TESTING

That’s what needs to happen: rapid-response testing. If you have an outbreak at your workplace, get everyone tested. For those who test positive, keep them home and isolated. For those who test negative, they can keep on working and you’re back in business.

When the outbreak hit Fry Foods, company officials made the decision to shut the plant down.

Without adequate testing, that’s unfortunately the right thing to do. Without testing, you have no idea whether you have seven infected employees, 70 or 270.

We applaud Fry Foods company officials for making the tough call to shut down, even though they were given the green light by the Southwest District Health Department to resume operations.

Coronavirus is stealthy. A person can carry coronavirus longer without symptoms, potentially spreading to others unwittingly. Some people who carry coronavirus have no symptoms at all.

We are encouraged that Crush the Curve Idaho stepped up and stepped in here.

But Idaho needs a more concerted and organized plan to do rapid-response testing.

We are a fragmented health system. Health providers include Saint Alphonsus, St. Luke’s, Primary Health, Saltzer, among others. Then think about all the entities who pay for health care: Blue Cross of Idaho, Regence BlueShield, PacificSource, SelectHealth, etc. Throw in Medicare, Medicaid and those who are uninsured.

Even our own government health management system is fragmented, with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and seven independent health districts not operated by the state.

And, in the case of Fry Foods, situated in a city bordering Oregon, workers were from two states.

NO COORIDINATED EFFORTS

No wonder Fry Foods officials were at a loss for where to turn for help. Without some sort of coordinated effort to test all employees and somehow pay for those tests, shutting down the plant was the best option.

It’s worth noting that the Fry Foods employee who initially had coronavirus was at a family gathering of a larger number than outlined in the governor’s reopening plan and was with visitors from out of state, two violations of the governor’s guidelines. That’s why we have the guidelines, and that’s why it’s important to follow the guidelines. Otherwise, this is what you get: an outbreak that shuts down an entire food manufacturing plant.

Unfortunately, shutting down operations every time there’s an outbreak is not going to get the job done.

And there will be more outbreaks as we reopen our economy, reopen factories and workplaces.

Idaho has a lot to be optimistic about, and we have a golden opportunity to lead the nation in reopening our economy in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. We have had relatively few cases (around 2,300) and few deaths (77). Our early efforts to shut down parts of our social interactions and Little’s quick call to issue a statewide stay-home order clearly have paid off. Idahoans’ adherence to the stay-home order has helped to flatten the curve and control the number of new cases. Residents and businesses, alike, have done their part to make this happen.

Our hope is that Idaho can chug along through the stages of reopening. Our fear is that if we don’t do this the right way, we’ll have a surge and we’ll be back to a statewide stay-home order. Nobody wants that.

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