Thursday, July 27, 2006

Let the people decide

The following is an op-ed written by Jerry Brady
During these days of Governor Risch’s fast-paced and temporary leadership, I’ve been thinking of the words of Winston Churchill who said, "Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen."

Listening seems to be a lost art in politics. In a world of red and blue, of Democrats and Republicans, partisanship has thwarted true dialogue about the common good. Talking with and listening to one another has been replaced by televised shouting matches.

As governor for a short time, Risch has made some bold moves. Some have been smart, but many have been hasty and misguided. In the upcoming special session he has called, Governor Risch has his heart set on shifting taxes onto those who can least afford to pay them.
No one doubts the seriousness of the property tax problem we face. However, his plan has not benefited from truly listening to many people, or at least to many people outside the Boise political establishment.

Risch’s tax shift would raise the sales tax by 20 percent, thereby pinching the average homeowner with each trip to the grocery store. Conveniently, second home owners, special-interest businesses, and corporations pay comparatively little in sales tax and will enjoy a tax reduction of $156 million. Risch would rather raise our sales tax than tell special interests they can’t have a tax cut, too.

Some legislators have a different idea. This alternative plan would target homeowners for the tax cut. They would use $l04 million of the state’s $200 million surplus to replace the homeowner’s share of school support without increasing the sales tax. This supports schools but also gives relief to those who need it most: homeowners.

Every year more of the property tax burden falls on homeowners. Why is that happening? Home values are based on market value, which have been going through the roof. Other classes of property are not based on market value and are relatively stable or declining.

This isn’t the only example of a lack of listening by our temporary governor. Governor Risch failed to listen when appointing candidates to the Fish and Game Commission. Sportsmen groups, that have long asked to be included in the nomination process, were ignored even though they pay nearly all of the Fish and Game budget.

As governor, I will listen. I’ve been doing that for the last 16 months and have learned a lot. I am currently traveling to all 44 Idaho counties in 44 days. I’m listening to the people of Idaho and learning what they want from their leadership.

These decisions are too important—and a hasty solution too potentially damaging—to leave to an interim governor. Risch’s plan is not without merit, but it seems obvious he had his mind made up some time ago. He should encourage debate on the two plans. We should let the people decide which plan they prefer. Both options should be put before the people on the ballot this November.

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