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TOP LEGISLATIVE ISSUES 2006



RESULTS

This poll ran in November, 2005 in order to pick the issues which we will brief and poll our members on for the 2006 legislative session. 147 members participated.

The four issues that members rated as the most important to brief and poll on are:

  • Property Tax Reform
  • K – 12 Education Funding
  • Prison Overcrowding
  • Restrictions on the Government’s Power of Eminent Domain

Each member of the organization will be assigned to review the briefing materials we develop and answer a questionnaire for one of these four issues.

CLICK HERE TO REVIEW THE FULL RESULTS OF THIS POLL


TOP LEGISLATIVE ISSUES 2006

We will develop briefing materials on three issues that come before the legislature in the upcoming session.  Short descriptions of 25 of the most important issues likely to come before the legislature are provided below.  We ask that you rate how important it is for us to develop full briefing materials on each issue. 

We will develop full briefing materials on the three issues with the highest average rating.  In turn, each member of The Common Interest will be randomly assigned to review the briefing materials for one of the three selected issues and to share their views.

We developed the list by seeking the input of twenty legislative leaders, reporters, and other analysts.  The issues are listed in order from the issue most frequently identified by these 20 individuals to the least frequently identified.  When a particular issue seems to be particularly well-suited for The Common Interest, we note this in bold, italicized text at the conclusion of the description.

Last year the membership decided that we would require a 60% majority or greater on a given issue to take an official position as an organization.  At the end of the list of issues, we ask you to revisit this decision and share your views with us. 

Property Tax Reform

Many Idaho citizens have become deeply concerned with rising property taxes.  The problem has been particularly pronounced in areas of high growth and rapidly appreciating property values which include the Coeur d’ Alene and Sandpoint areas, the McCall and Cascade resort areas, Treasure Valley, and the areas close to the Tetons such as Victor and Driggs.  There is also a concern that over time the property tax burden has shifted increasingly from commercial to residential properties.  There is particularly a concern that fixed-income seniors may be forced out of their homes because they are unable to pay the property taxes on it.

The legislature convened an interim committee to examine this issue.  They have held hearings around the state and have been considering various measures to deal with the issue.  Six measures are getting particular attention.  One measure would expand the home owner’s property tax exemption which is currently set at $50,000 or 50% of the value of the home, whichever is less.  A second measure would be to expand the so called “circuit breaker” which is an exemption for elderly and low income tax payers.  A third measure would eliminate one component of the current property tax, the one that pays for maintenance and operation of schools (M & O) and pay for it instead with other, as yet unspecified, state revenues.  A fifth measure would make new growth pay for itself to a greater degree by expanding the potential use of impact fees by local governments.  A sixth measure would address a provision that allows developers to avoid paying taxes on the full value of property they own but have not yet built on.

There are various citizens’ groups that have vowed to address this issue through a ballot initiative if the legislature fails to adequately address it.  For example, some have proposed an initiative measure like California’s Proposition 13.

            Virtually every person with whom we spoke identified this as one of the most important issues likely to come before the legislature.  Perhaps the fact that it will impact so many Idahoans suggests that it is important for us to address it and thus insure that the view of informed common citizens is heard.

 

Overcrowded Prisons

            For a more than ten years the number of people incarcerated nationally has been growing rapidly and Idaho has one of the fastest growth rates in the prison population of any state.  As a consequence, the costs of incarceration have been growing rapidly.  In spite of significant increases in money spent on prison facilities over this time, Idaho prisons are again filled beyond capacity.  This requires that the state consider shipping prisoners to other states, often at higher costs and with greater risks than incurred incarcerating them in state.  As a result, the Department of Corrections is asking for $185 million to build additional prison facilities.

            Many have argued that the state should examine alternatives to the ever-increasing numbers of prisoners and the ever-increasing costs of incarceration.  They observe that a large majority of prisoners have been convicted on drug-related crimes and that incarcerating these individuals is proving to be an ineffective means of dealing with the problem.  They have suggested a combination of three alternative approaches.  First, many have urged that sentencing rules be reformed.  Second, many have suggested that the state provide more substance abuse treatment programs.  Third, many have argued that the drug courts program should be expanded.

In drug courts, individuals convicted of drug-related crimes are sentenced as usual.  However, instead of going immediately to prison, the offenders are given the opportunity to participate in a program that typically includes drug treatment and frequent follow-up meetings with the judge, prosecutor, defense attorney, and parole officer.  As long as the offenders participate in the program and do not get involved with drugs again, then they stay out of prison.  If, however, they relapse, then they must serve their prison sentence.

The state’s initial experience with drug courts, and the experience of other states, indicates that participants are re-arrested less frequently, are employed at higher rates, and earn more per hour when employed than those offenders who were convicted and imprisoned for similar crimes once they are released from prison.  In addition to achieving better results than incarceration, drug courts cost a fraction of what it costs to incarcerate an offender.  Putting an offender through a drug court program costs $3,000 to $5,000 a year.  Incarcerating an individual costs over $17,000 a year.  Currently, existing drug courts are hugely oversubscribed.

Many of those who argue that the state should examine alternatives to spending millions of dollars on new prison construction suggest that such alternatives are not examined thoroughly enough.  The fact that private companies now contract with the state to operate some of its prisons may offer at least a partial explanation for why alternatives are not more fully explored.  These private companies benefit financially as the numbers of incarcerated individuals increase.  They hire some of the most powerful lobbyists in the state to protect their interests.

 

            The potential for the disproportionate influence of a special interest on this issue makes it one that may be well suited for us.  Additionally, our ability to bring substantive investigation of all solutions to current prison overcrowding—from new prison construction to drug court expansion—may uniquely position us to help identify the most sensible solutions and make a real difference in the discussion of an issue where millions of dollars are at stake.

 

K – 12 Education Funding

K-12 education is the biggest single component of the state budget, though it has been growing far less rapidly in recent years than the corrections budget or the budget for the state’s health care responsibilities.  Last year, the K-12 education budget was increased by 2.3% over the previous year while the state projected an increase in enrollment of 2.2%.  Both the corrections budget and state’s health care funding increased by more than 10% last year.  Some suggest that we need to invest more in education.  Others say that the revenues are not there to fund greater investment. 

One particular aspect of K-12 education funding that continues to get particular attention is the state’s contribution to funding school buildings in local school districts.  In Idaho, the state contributes far less to local school districts for facilities than other states do, a circumstance to that has led to unsafe schools and a lawsuit that the state lost.

            K-12 education is one of the issues we picked last year.  The results indicated that this is clearly an issue of great importance to our members.  Strong majorities supported substantially greater funding than what the governor and the relevant legislative committee proposed and what was ultimately passed.  That said, it is the only issue we chose on which we had very little influence. 

We may not have much greater influence this year, particularly given continuing budget constraints.  For this reason, we may be well advised to select other issues for now.  On the other hand, choosing this issue for a second time could serve to heighten the accountability of our legislators as our legislative scorecard would track the votes of legislators over two years on this issue of clear importance to the common citizens of Idaho.

 

Budget Surplus

            The state currently has a budget surplus of around $200 million.  About half of the surplus is due to an economy that has performed better than expected this year.  Some suggest the current economic circumstances are uncertain enough that the state should not plan on the economy generating revenues at the same pace that it did last year.  The other half of the surplus came from the temporary 1-cent sales tax increase before it expired in July.  Accordingly, this portion of the surplus is a one-time occurrence that clearly can’t be relied on going forward.  The question is what to do with the surplus.  Some argue that it should fund a tax cut.  If all or part of the surplus is used to fund a tax cut, many argue that the tax cut needs to be a one-time, not a permanent tax cut.  Those arguing this point out that permanent tax cuts were passed the last time we had a surplus, which led to several years of shortfalls and the need for a temporary increase in the sales tax.  Some argue that the surplus should be put in a rainy day fund or used to fund one-time initiatives.

 

Medicaid

            The state’s financial contribution to the Medicaid program has been growing at an alarming 17.7% per year since 1997.  The state currently contributes over $300 million annually to the program.  Medicaid is a federal program that combines federal and state funds to pay for healthcare for low income, elderly, and disabled individuals.  Because it is a federal program, there has been immense pressure on Congress to reform it to make costs more manageable, but Congress has yet to deliver.  Accordingly, many states, including Idaho, are now looking to implement reforms of their own.  States can apply for waivers from the provisions of the federal program in order to pilot reform initiatives.

            Governor Kempthorne recently announced a bold effort to explore changes in the Medicaid program in Idaho.  Many of the details are still being worked out, but the outlined plan proposes to split those who receive Medicaid into three different groups: (1) elderly, (2) disabled and special needs, (3) low income healthy children and adults.  Governor Kempthorne believes that each of these populations can be served in different ways to provide reasonable health care more cost effectively.  For example, a low income but healthy family may be required to make low co-payments for prescription drugs to encourage them to use generic drugs or co-payments may be required for emergency room visits to encourage going to a more cost-effective primary care provider instead.  Some have argued that this reform effort has begun too late to be fleshed out in sufficient detail in this legislative session.

 

Higher Education Funding

Higher education in Idaho has faced three simultaneous funding challenges in recent years.  First, enrollment in the state’s public colleges and universities has increased.  Second, the costs of higher education have been rising faster than inflation.  Third, the state’s funding of higher education has been limited by the tight budgets of the last several years.  Consequently, the costs borne by students for education have risen dramatically—over 100% over the last ten years.  These costs have increased faster than higher education costs in any other western state.  Although we used to have the lowest higher education costs for students of any of the western states, we are now more expensive than Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming.  We are still cheaper than Washington, Oregon, and Montana.  Some are suggesting that it is time to invest more heavily in Idaho higher education generally.  Since Idaho ranks 45th of the 50 states in terms of the percentage of its high school graduates going to college, some have recommended that the state increase its funding of need-based scholarships in particular.

 

Community Colleges

            In reaction to the fact that such a low percentage of Idaho high school graduates go to college, some have suggested that the state should make community colleges a more accessible option.  Currently, the state has two community colleges—North Idaho College in Coeur d’Alene and the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls.  The Treasure Valley and Idaho Falls are often mentioned as areas where it would be helpful to add a community college (Idaho Falls does have a vocational-technical school).

            One of the challenges of adding community colleges is, obviously, the significant funding that would be required.  North Idaho College and the College of Southern Idaho are funded primarily by local property taxes.  If the state committed to funding additional community colleges, citizens in the Coeur d’ Alene and Twin Falls areas would likely request state funding for their campuses as a matter of fairness.  Additional challenges, such as gaining accreditation would also need to be addressed.

 

Capitol and old Ada County Courthouse Restoration

            The age of the electrical and plumbing systems in the State Capitol building are an increasing problem.  The limits on space are also presenting problems.  For example, the rooms in which many legislative committee hearings are held often cannot accommodate all the members of the public who wish to participate.  Technological upgrades are needed in many respects. 

Many are suggesting that the time has come to address these problems.  A number of approaches have been explored.  The old Ada County Courthouse, now owned by the state, could either be renovated or torn down to build a new building that would provide additional space for state business.  Others have suggested that underground wings could be built, similar to those in the Texas statehouse.  These projects would require substantial funding. 

 

State Employee and Teacher Salaries

Raises for state employees and teachers have lagged behind inflation and growth in wages in other sectors for a number of years now.  Consequently, compensation for state employees and teachers are well below market rates and these employees are increasingly leaving for other jobs that pay better.  Some are suggesting that it is time to bring state employee and teacher salaries to a level that is more competitive.

 

Restrictions on Government Use of Eminent Domain Power

            The U.S. and Idaho constitutions provide government entities with the power of eminent domain.  As typically exercised, cities or counties use eminent domain to take property from private owners for public use—this is sometimes called condemning—such as putting in an essential street or water line.  Government entities can do this even if the owners are not willing to sell the property voluntarily.  Private owners are compensated for such takings.

In June of this year, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a controversial five to four decision in the Kelo v. New London case.  The court held that the city of New London, Connecticut acted within its authority when it exercised its eminent domain power to condemn the property of fifteen landowners who had refused to sell to the city’s development agency.  The fact that the city used the power of eminent domain in order to make room for new development—a part of the city’s economic development plan that included the construction of new, more expensive housing, a hotel and a conference center—made this ruling particularly controversial.  As a result of this exercise of eminent domain, the land was taken by the city from one set of private owners to be used by another set.  The “public use” justification was that it would boost economic development and bring in higher tax revenues to the city.  The existing property was not blighted as had been the situation in some other similar cases.

Critics of this decision, who come from across the political spectrum, argue that under this expansive view of “public use,”  all private property owners are at risk of being forced off their property anytime a government entity determines that there is a higher economic use for that property, even if it is a private use.  Many agree with a central point that Justice Sandra Day O’Connor made in her dissenting opinion, arguing that the ruling created a reverse Robin Hood effect in which large corporations and development firms would benefit at the expense of those with lower incomes and less political power.

Consequently, some have suggested that the Idaho legislature should pass a law that provides a more restrictive definition of “public use.”

This issue seems potentially very well suited for us.  It is one that does not fit into the typical partisan divide and it potentially pits large special interests against the interests of common citizens.  Bringing our substantive, informed perspective to bear on this issue may allow us to exert a real influence on behalf of common Idahoans.

 

Ethics in Government

            Some have suggested that legislation establishing various ethical standards in government is lacking in Idaho.  Three specific measures are often mentioned.  First, some would like to pass more restrictive legislation governing the use of campaign funds.  Current campaign finance laws allow candidates to use campaign funds for personal use and allow office holders to use campaign funds for expenses connected with holding office after they have been elected.  Some, notably Governor Kempthorne, have been criticized for interpreting these provisions very broadly to cover a range of personal expenses that many regard as inappropriate.

Second, some would like to ban former state government employees from representing a new employer before an agency for which they formerly worked or from disclosing confidential information gained while working for the state to the new employer. 

Third, some would like to require greater personal financial disclosure by public officials in order to make conflicts of interest apparent.  

Since reducing the influence of special interests in government is one of our aims, this may be an interesting issue for us to consider. 

 

Health Care Accessibility and Affordability

Health care costs continue to increase dramatically, putting substantial financial pressure on individuals and families, businesses, and county and state governments.  Many are suggesting that the state needs to address this problem.  A wide variety of measures has been discussed with no detailed alternatives clearly emerging as yet.  Some ideas mentioned draw on the ability of the state to purchase at high volume and get discounts as a result.  For example, the state might establish a discount prescription drug program through its ability to by in bulk or offer lower cost health insurance alternatives.  Another idea is to have a state program of importing prescription drugs from other countries, such as Canada, with lower prices.  Other ideas emphasize finding ways to increase the access to and the use of preventive and early care which tends to be more cost effective than treating illness later on.

 

Constitutional Amendment Banning Gay Marriage

            A proposal to amend the state constitution to prevent the state from recognizing gay marriages that has come before the legislature before (and failed to pass) is likely to come before the legislature again.  The measure may also prohibit recognition of civil unions or domestic partnerships.  It is not yet clear whether the proposed amendment would invalidate existing common-law marriages (the state passed a law prohibiting it from recognizing new common-law marriages in 1996). 

If it passes by a two-thirds majority in both the Senate and House, the amendment would go on a regular election ballot.  A majority vote in the election would ratify the amendment and put it into effect.  In 1996, the legislature banned gay marriage by statute.

           

Sex-Offender Laws

            With several horrific sex-offender incidents coming to light in Idaho in the last year, many have suggested that sex-offender laws should be toughened.  Two provisions are receiving particular attention.  First, a law could be established requiring that violent sex-offenders who have completed their prison sentence be supervised and/or monitored instead of being simply released into the community as is currently done.  Second, the statute of limitations for pressing charges against sex-offenders could be extended.  Currently, child victims of sex-offenders cannot bring charges after they turn 23, five years after they become an adult.  Extending the statute of limitations in such instances would acknowledge the reluctance of child victims to report the crime, the fact that child victims may have been threatened by the abuser to prevent them from coming forward, and the fact that it may take years for a child victim to gain sufficient clarity and courage to come forward.

 

Cold Medicine Sales Regulations to Reduce Methamphetamine Production

            Cold and allergy medicines that contain pseudoephedrine are often used to manufacture methamphetamine, an illegal, addictive drug that has been a major problem in Idaho.  A proposal came before the legislature last year that would have required that these cold and allergy medicines be purchased from a pharmacist and that purchasers show a photo I.D. and sign for the product.  Similar measures in other states have led to dramatic decreases in methamphetamine drug use and crime.  Last year’s proposal was not adopted, but a possibly modified version is likely to come before the legislature again this year.

 

High School Reform

            Not only is Idaho 45th in the nation in terms of the percentage of high school graduates going to college, but many argue that those students who do go to college are not adequately prepared, particularly in math and science.  To address these issues, the State Board of Education has proposed a high school reform package.  The primary feature of the plan is an increase in the number of math and science courses required for graduation.  Currently, the state requires that students take four courses in math and four in science sometime during grades 9 – 12 to graduate.  The reform package would increase the math requirements to eight (including Algebra I, Geometry, and Algebra II) and the science requirement to six (all of which would need to have labs). 

The reform package includes several additional features.  First, it would require that eight of a student’s electives (out of a total of approximately twenty-five) be related to a student’s chosen career focus.  Second, the package would require a cumulative “C” average in math, science, language arts, and social studies.  It would also require at least a “D” in Pre-Algebra and Algebra I before entering 9th grade.  Third, the package would require that students complete a senior project and take a college entrance exam.  Fourth, the total number of credits required for graduation would be increased from 42 to 46, though most school districts in Idaho already require 56 credits.

            Some have questioned whether this proposal unduly emphasizes math and science over other subject areas and whether it would excessively limit students’ abilities to take electives.  Some have also called it an unfunded state mandate that would be difficult for many high schools to fund.  For example, many high schools would need to hire more math and science teachers, although these teachers tend to be among the most difficult to find and retain.  Others have noted that schools would need to provide additional help for those students who would struggle to meet these requirements.

 

Review of Tax Incentives for Large Corporations

            Last year the legislature passed Governor Kempthorne’s proposed package of income, property, and sales tax breaks for large corporations that move their headquarters to Idaho.  A company has to create 500 new jobs that pay at least $50,000 a year and invest in at least $50 million in new buildings to receive the tax breaks.  The Governor indicated that, if passed, we would likely see the benefits of it within six months, implying that he was in advanced discussions with at least one company.  To date, no company has stepped forward to avail itself of the package.  Given that fact, some are suggesting that the package should be reviewed. 

Critics of the package argued at the time it was being debated that it was unfair to existing businesses, particularly to new small and medium sized businesses that create most of the new jobs, and to individuals left to pay the taxes from which the large companies would be exempted. They also argued that it was geographically unfair since it was unlikely that such a large company would locate anywhere in the state besides the Boise area.

 

Southern Idaho Water Dispute

            The 10,000-square-mile Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer and the Snake River work together to create an enormous water asset unique among arid mountain west states.  Over the last fifty years, the demands on this remarkable resource have grown.  The conversion from flood to sprinkler irrigation, the increase in water pumped out of the aquifer from wells, and a six year drought have combined to create a situation in which there is not enough water to meet demand. 

According to the prior appropriation doctrine, which governs water use in Idaho, those who have older water rights have priority over those who have younger water rights.  Some of the oldest and largest water rights in southern Idaho belong to the canal companies and irrigation districts that diverted water from the Snake River in the early decades of the twentieth century to create the vast irrigation systems that made settlement for thousands of families a possibility in southern Idaho.  In the last year, a number of canal companies have formally requested that the state curtail the water use of junior water right ground water pumpers in order for the canal companies to get their full allocation of water. 

            While it is now scientifically clear that ground water pumping diminishes spring flows and thus reduces the amount of water in the Snake River, the specifics of these connections are complicated.  Accordingly, it is difficult to know with certainty the extent to which the water use by specific junior ground water users should be curtailed in order for particular senior water right holders to receive their full allocation of water. 

The canal companies’ curtailment request is currently going through the Idaho Department of Water Resources’ (IDWR) process, akin to litigation, for such matters.  Partly because of the complicated nature of the connection between ground water and springs, this process is likely to be long and costly.  Indeed, the canal companies have already filed a lawsuit challenging the legality and constitutionality of the IDWR process.  Regardless of the outcome of the IDWR process, the result can be appealed in the state court system.  This potentially makes the dispute even longer and more costly.  This litigation process could ripple to affect literally thousands of claims with serious economic effects on thousands of individuals, the economy generally, and, thus, the state budget.

A variety of measures that the state might take to address this issue have been considered in recent years.  These matters may come before the legislature again this year.  At this time, however, it is quite unclear exactly what might be proposed.  Some believe that little of significance is likely to come before the legislature until some of these legal matters have been resolved.

 

Oversight of Power Plant Siting

            As the state grows, so does its energy needs.  In response, two coal-fired power plants have been proposed—one in the Magic Valley and one in eastern Idaho—with a third possible plant also being mentioned.  Building such facilities raises a host of economic and environmental issues.  Currently, decisions about whether and where to build such facilities is largely left to local government authorities, primarily counties.  Some have suggested that a greater oversight role for the state should be established, particularly since many of the effects of coal-fired power plants extend beyond the boundaries of the counties in which they would be sited.

 

Identity Theft and Cyber-Security

            As the internet continues to grow and make information more accessible, the threat of identity theft has also increased.  In the last few years, there have been several instances in which “hackers” penetrated the computer records of various entities to steal personal information of thousands of individuals such as social security numbers, credit card numbers, and bank account information.  This information can then be used illegally.  For example, credit card numbers can be used to purchase goods and services.

            Consequently, some are proposing measures to increase the security of electronically stored personal information and/or to toughen the penalties for violations.

 

Greater Limits on Abortion

            As in past years, proposals to create greater limits on abortion are likely to come before the legislature.  One proposal that is attracting particular attention is a measure that would require parental consent for minors seeking an abortion.  Proponents argue that parents have a right and a responsibility to consult with and support their daughters in such a weighty and difficult matter.  Opponents argue that a parental consent requirement can create undue and inappropriate strain on young women who are already in a very difficult situation.  They argue that this is particularly true in cases in which a young woman has become pregnant through incest or rape, especially if the offender is the young women’s father or other member of her family.

 

Grocery Tax Exemption

Idaho charges a 5% sales tax on purchases, including the purchase of groceries. Critics of the sales tax argue that it is regressive because lower income individuals pay a disproportionately higher percentage of their income on the sales tax than higher income individuals.  This is because essential taxed purchases, such as groceries, constitute a higher percentage of a lower income individual’s income.  Some have suggested modifications that would provide tax breaks for groceries.  This could be done in a variety of ways ranging from eliminating the sales tax on groceries altogether to providing a higher grocery tax credit on state income taxes for lower income individuals.

 

GARVEE Highway Project Oversight

Last year the legislature passed Governor Kempthorne’s ambitious plan to build and improve highways. Over the next ten years, the governor proposes hundreds of millions of dollars worth of highway construction projects throughout the state to improve transportation generally, strengthen the connections between northern and southern Idaho, improve safety, stimulate economic development, and provide jobs.

These projects will be paid for through “Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicles.” Also known as GARVEE bonds, these federally authorized funding mechanisms are essentially loans with favorable interest rates because they are backed by the federal transportation dollars the state expects to receive in the future. Accordingly, the costs of this initiative will not come out of the general budget.

Some have raised questions about how the priorities are set for which projects will be funded and when.  Proposals to create some sort of oversight of these decisions are likely to come before the legislature this year.

 

Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) Regulation

            The growing number of large dairies and other confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in Idaho has drawn attention to the issue of how the large quantities of animal waste they generate are managed.  In particular, many have become deeply concerned with the effect large, industrial dairies have on air quality.  Many believe that those who are close to industrial dairies that rely on certain methods of managing dairy cattle waste are exposed to unhealthy air.  Many observe that the unpleasant air quality has significantly depressed surrounding property values.  Various proposals to deal with this issue are likely to come before the legislature.  Possible proposals include air quality standards, requirements to use waste management alternatives that do not have such negative effects on air quality, and a requirement that CAFOs’ waste management records be open to the public.

 

Field Burning Regulation

            Farmers commonly burn the stubble left in their fields after harvest to prepare the ground for the following year’s crops.  This is a particularly common practice by bluegrass seed growers in northern Idaho because this practice enhances the productivity of the next year’s crop.  Critics of this practice argue that it substantially diminishes air quality in surrounding areas to the point of creating serious health effects.

            Various proposals are likely to come before the legislature this year to stiffen the regulations on this practice.  Possible proposals include requiring greater public notification of plans to burn fields and greater restrictions on the timing and weather circumstances when such burning is allowed.

 

The Common Interest’s Definition of a Strong Majority

            Last year, members considered how strong a majority should be required for The Common Interest to take an official position on an issue.  We were clear that we did not think that we should take an official position if the members assigned to a given issue split 51% to 49%.  However, we needed to decide just how strong a majority we would require.  We considered the relative merits of four possible levels:  55%, 60%, two-thirds, and three-quarters majorities.  We selected 60% over two-thirds by a narrow margin.  Click here to review the arguments we considered last year:  http://thecommoninterest.org/Issue.aspx?iid=4

We also said at the time that we would revisit the issue after we’d had some experience.  We now invite that reconsideration in light of our experience over the last year.  We would have taken the same positions last year whether we had adopted the 60% or two-thirds majority rule.  The 100 plus members assigned to the Qwest issue last year came out 92% opposed and 8% supportive of Qwest’s proposal.  The 100 plus members assigned to the K-12 education funding issue came out 82% opposed to the legislature’s proposed budget because it was too low and 69% opposed to the Governor’s proposed budget because it was too low.  Only 53% of those members supported Superintendent Howard’s proposed budget while 44% opposed it for being too high so we did not take a position on Howard’s proposed level of funding.  (We are currently going through our briefing and polling process on our third issue from last year—open legislative committee meetings).

Over the last year Keith has had an opportunity to speak to audiences around the state about The Common Interest.  The idea is very well received, but one of the most frequent questions posed is whether the positions the organization takes is truly representative of the people of Idaho.  This frequent question may suggest that we should move to a two-thirds majority rule in order to provide added assurance that we do not take positions that are not representative of the people of the state.



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