By WAYNE HOFFMAN
Some newspapers and political commentators are busy sizing up the 2011 legislative session. Their consensus: "It was the worst legislative session in history." I guess they didn't get the big government solutions they were hoping for. In reality, this was one of the best legislative sessions in recent memory, one that will have long-term benefits for Idahoans. Idaho lawmakers should be thanked for balancing the budget without raising taxes, for putting students first in our education system and for beginning to turn the tide on entitlement spending.
Don't get me wrong, I really wish the Legislature had done more — actually eliminate a state agency, tackle pension reform and fix numerous other problems caused by their predecessors' embracement of statism. I'll detail those issues another time. But for now, my 2011 legislative highlight reel runneth over. The Legislature:
·Approved a measure that blocks the onslaught of Obamacare and keeps much of the law at bay through July 1, 2012. For those Obamacare portions that do require state action, agencies will have to document what they're doing and why -- and make that information readily available to the public. While the Legislature could have and should have done more, I've been told that our state's action to block Obamacare is the strongest in the nation, which is extremely gratifying. The Legislature also rejected $2.5 million in federal ObamaBucks intended co-opt the state government into implementing the healthcare law.
·Passed important legislation to protect Idahoans from the wolf packs that are destroying the state's wildlife, impacting the economy and threatening the personal security of many of our state's residents. The bill approved by the Legislature gives the governor the ability to use the state's resources to protect Idahoans from the federally-imported wolves without violating the U.S. Constitution.
·Passed sweeping measures that reform and improve public education so that students' educational excellence and opportunity at the forefront of public policy. Tenure is ended. Our best teachers will be rewarded for their excellent work. School boards will have greater ability to retain the best educators and dismiss underperformers. School master agreements will be negotiated in public and not behind closed doors, and no longer will teachers' unions summarily control school district operations. The state also began the process of pushing the public education into the 21st century by breaking down digital barriers and embracing more technology in our classrooms.
·Cut Medicaid entitlement spending in a responsible manner that will save state taxpayers $34 million next year alone. At the same time, the Legislature ignored the repeated, almost deafening calls to raise taxes and ditched proposals to raise fees.
·Began putting controls on urban renewal districts by giving voters a say in the formation of the districts, restricting their growth and limiting the amount of time that bonds can be issued for urban renewal projects.
No legislative session will ever be perfect. By their nature, people aren't perfect, so it stands to reason we also don't elect perfect people to office. That's an unshakable truism. Still, because the statists didn't get what they wanted, they'll twist history and hope you'll really buy the notion that these imperfect legislators gave us "the worst legislative session ever." If that's really the case, I'm looking forward to an even worse 2012 session.
Wayne Hoffman is executive director of the Idaho Freedom Foundation.