2014 Legislature: My Optimistic Glass Half-Empty Reading

Yes an optimist can have a glass half empty.

By Levi B Cavener

Levi B CavenerOn Monday the doors will open to a new legislative session. It will be a cordial reunion in which freshman will try to be seen with the  veterans. In the spirit of bipartisanship, democrats and  republicans will mingle together on the floor while waiting for the Govenor’s speech. There will be an atmosphere of opportunity and hope that has been absent since the Great Recession struck the gem state.

The positive vibes on the statehouse floor are not without warrant. Idaho’s economy has made a significant comeback, even just in comparison to last year, with most economic professionals predicting that Idaho’s economy is on the rebound. In almost forgotten vocabulary, legislators are hearing about a positive increase in Idaho’s treasury deposits. Yes, the bricks are starting to look a little more yellow.

I want to believe that this is the year Idaho will change course. It will be a return to a time when all stakeholders are given a seat at the table, such as the governor’s task force. It will be a period of bipartisanship legislative drafting of new bills, such as the bills democrats authored over the year in response to the task for recommendations with republican support.

However, like all buildings’ facades, the structure below will eventually be seen. The truth is, republicans are deeply split over the task force recommendations. In addition, factions on the republican side are breaking away from state leadership over support of Common Core Standards.

Perhaps most importantly of all, it’s an election year. If there was ever a golden moment to break away and define oneself as a candidate in a particular year, then this is the year to do so. Differences in opinion are already emerging in the gubernatorial race such as a perceived row between Fulcher and Otter. Let’s not forget that Luna hasn’t even formally announced his candidacy and we are waiting on a legitimate possible democratic takeover of the post if he throws his hat in the ring.

Yes, tremors are already quaking making the fissures underneath more visible by the day. So what do I believe is going to happen?

On common core I think a faction of conservative republicans, or even perhaps more moderate ones facing a tough primary, will cry foul. They will attempt to bog up the process through procedural votes, and they will look good in the end to their constituents in the primary with a talking point about how they tried to get rid of it.

On the task force proposals, members will seek to delay implementing proposals as long as possible. Perhaps, in a return to logic that would have been welcomed during the drafting of Luna’s laws, they will ask for more time to study the recommendations.

Either way, this will be a smoke-screen in an effort to get constituents to forget all about the task force until hopefully it’s bipartisan ideas disappear into the tumbling sagebrush of Idaho’s desert. Don’t expect for the legislature to return with earnest to proposals next year that don’t get cleared this year.

In an attempt to save face, Luna will offer teachers a one-time payout to increase teachers’ earnings for one year. It won’t be part of either the existing salary scale or the proposed tier scale that was recommended by the task force (the sole issue Luna has said he won’t seek to begin implementing this year…go figure) so that the funds can vanish next year after the election is over. However, it will provide some timely credibility for Luna with voters that he really does care about teachers.

Democrats may stand to come out on top as  they watch the other party’s caucus break over education legislation. Or not, it is an election year for them too, and they might also want to at least appear to be appeasing a center-right base.

At the end of the session I expect Common Core and the SBAC tests to have survived. Some task force recommendations will have made it through, although they will be scaled down and will require votes on them again next year. Teachers will receive a small one time payout. Districts will see an increase to their classroom unit funding, though not as large as an increase as they were looking for.

In other words, things will be better than they were before, but the glass will still be sitting half empty ready to be filled the rest of the way up.

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