Each year I write a letter to my state legislators explaining some of my priorities as a citizen of Idaho. I am a little bit behind this year as the legislative session began last week. Regardless, here it is.
I am writing to you today to highlight some of my priorities as a citizen of your district. I know that many times you receive very specific feedback on specific legislation being considered. I wanted to provide you an overall view of what is important to me as a citizen in the hopes that it will be useful for you in this difficult session. As always, if you have any specific questions regarding this feedback, please feel free to contact me. This letter will also be posted on my blog at Rob's Idaho Perspective - http://wolf21m.blogspot.com/.
My priorities for 2009:
1. Environmental Protection - Idaho has tremendous wildlife and wildlands assets which are constantly under attack. In this poor economy there is even greater push to cut corners and further exploit our lands and our environment. What we must keep in perspective is regardless of the economic conditions today, we still have a stewardship responsibility to protect the world for our children, their children, and so on. Decisions made today can have a dramatic effect on the future of our world.
The most significant threat to our environment is Global Warming. While Idaho cannot solve this problem ourselves, there is much we could do to decrease our contribution to it. With the innovation infrastructure within our state, this could also be a major economic initiative. I suggest both increased personal tax credits for individual installing alternative energy devices and R&D tax credits for companies developing alternative energy technologies.
On a more local level, it is critical that we decrease the pollution in our water from agricultural run-off. I understand this is a difficult issue in our political climate, but this is a critical threat to our environment, the wildlife, and ourselves! We should be working to improve our water resources and not just slow the damage.
If you are looking for a place to save money, you might focus on the killing arm of the Idaho Fish and Game department. We are spending tons of money tracking down and killing wildlife which gets mixed up with ineffective and irresponsible livestock operations. The investment is disproportionate to the risk. With less state protection, livestock operations would have to take some responsibility themselves. There are very effective protection mechanism which are used around the world. Idaho operations don't use them because the state will jump in and spend tens of thousands of dollars hunting down and killing any wildlife which "might" have been involved. It's time we put an end to state subsidies for irresponsible businesses of all types.
I have two even more controversial desires for our state. The first is to restore central Idaho to a complete ecosystem. Idaho is one of only a few places in the lower 48 states where this is still possible. A major gap in the ecosystem is the absence of the grizzly bear. I would like to see them re-introduced to central Idaho along with other native species which may now be missing. Additionally, recent research is pointing out the detrimental effect that trophy hunting has on an ecosystem. I would suggest that a portion of our state be set aside for a hunting free zone so that the environment and the wildlife can be preserved in as natural state as possible. This would be a huge attraction for wildlife watchers, photographers, and ecosystem researchers into the state.
2. Education - I was astounded at the governor's suggestion to cut deeply into education in the state. We already rank near the bottom of all states in per capita investment in education. This will further lower Idaho rankings and have a detrimental effect on the future of our citizens. I understand the difficult times, but education is our only way out of these situations. It should be the last item cut in my opinion. The citizen's support increased education investment as was proven out with the vote to fund the College of Western Idaho.
3. Transportation - I do support the governor's proposal to increase registration fees and fuel tax to cover our shortfall in transportation funding, but would not place it higher than education. I have considered the mile traveled tax, but prefer the fuel tax increase as it provides a built in incentive to drive more efficient vehicles.
I also believe it is time to solve the future of public transportation in Idaho. Many will argue not to spend time on this issue in the bad economic climate. The bottom line is that any work on this issue will not likely effect tax dollars for another year or two anyway. Now is the time to set the foundation of this structure in place. First, the state should repeal the constitutional limitation on spending fuel tax dollars on public transportation. Public transportation is a more effective way to relieve congestion than building more and more lanes on overly crowded roads. I also believe that public transportation is a state issue as well as a local issue. I believe it is time for the state to step up to provide some funding for public transportation, possibly through a matching funds arrangement ensuring local commitment to the system before any dollars are spent. Lastly, it is critical that the state allow local options taxation for the purpose of public transportation. I know that you are aware of this, but only 4 states lack state funding of public transportation while also preventing local option funding.
4. Human Rights - Lastly, I ask that that you work to add sexual orientation and gender identity to Idaho's Human Rights act. This critical protection is desperately needed to protect the citizens of Idaho. I have had friends, co-workers, and employees who live in a constant state of fear that the wrong person will find out that they are gay. They work to not be seen together in public, they cannot attend employee functions with their families, they are forced out of our supposedly "free" society. It is time that you do what you can to change this to make Idaho a state of opportunity for all of our citizens.
There are many other issues I could bring up, but these are my highest priorities. I wish you luck during this difficult session. Feel free to contact me if you have any issues or questions on this content or on any other matter of interest.