Editorial Roundup: Idaho

Recent editorials from Idaho newspapers:

Transport bill a big step down the road

May 12

Coeur d'Alene Press

The 2021 session of the Idaho Legislature might go down as one of the least productive in the state’s history.

But it hasn’t been a total waste.

On Monday, Gov. Brad Little signed into law House Bill 362, which he calls his “sustainable transportation funding solution.”

While the bill directs $80 million in ongoing funding, its greater value is that it allows the state to bond for up to $1.6 billion. That money can go for all sorts of work, including roads and bridges, across the state.

“It is the single largest state investment in transportation infrastructure in Idaho history,” a press release from the governor’s office proudly proclaimed.

And rightly so. Not only is our transportation infrastructure seriously neglected — thank you, past legislatures — but with Idaho growing faster than any other state, infrastructure impacts here will only increase exponentially.

Gov. Little also notes that this big step forward is being done without a tax increase or fees.

While we applaud this important bill addressing the governor’s intent to boost commerce while keeping citizens safe, we urge caution in managing expectations.

Even with $126 million in one-time funds from Gov. Little’s “Building Idaho’s Future” plan, residents won’t see substantial improvements overnight. Part of that is because planning is a long and arduous process; part is that competition for funding is fierce, with a population center down south at a big advantage; and part is that transportation infrastructure does not come cheap.

Just to repave a two-lane highway is estimated to cost at least $1 million per mile. And has anybody noticed that it’s hard to find workers these days?

Kootenai County is officially flooded with vehicular traffic, and you can get your heart beating fast by recognizing that full-out tourist season hasn’t even started yet. In short, things are likely to get worse before you see them getting better.

While HB 362 is urgently needed and cause for celebration, nothing short of legislation like this plus a significant increase in gas tax and a user fee tied to vehicles is likely to make a dramatic difference in a hurry.

And we know from recent history that ain’t gonna happen.

Online: The Coeur d'Alene Press

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Not everyone is wanted in the Gem State

May 12

The Lewiston Tribune

If you’re worried about Idaho drawing too many newcomers to the state, don’t.

Your 2021 Legislature just unfurled a huge flag to would-be recruits.

It tells them: Don’t come here.

Don’t come here if you are the parents of young school-age children now living in one of the 49 states and the District of Columbia that devote more money to the education of each child.

Why gamble your children’s future on the most underfunded public education system in the United States — especially when lawmakers just devoted five times more state money in tax cuts than in new school spending? To make matters worse, those same lawmakers would rather spend dollars intended for schools on asphalt and bridges than fill classrooms with accomplished teachers.

Forget the promises that come each campaign season: There will be no improvement in Idaho. Better to stay home or relocate elsewhere.

Don’t come here if you’re a working mom.

Money for early childhood education?

No, legislators said.

Invest in all-day kindergarten?

Not on your life.

Easier access to birth control?

Are you kidding?

Passing along a federal financial lifeline to keep child care centers afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic?

All right, but only after Rep. Charlie Shepherd, R-Pollock, expresses aloud what everyone else was thinking privately. He complained about making it “easier for mothers to come out of the home and let somebody else raise their child, (and) I just don’t think that’s a good direction for us to be going.”

Protecting female staffers from a predatory state lawmaker?

Only when the evidence is insurmountable — and even then, the accuser is going to be publicly humiliated.

Don’t come here if you’re a minority.

The one educational priority this year — from kindergarten to post-graduate programs — was making certain no teacher or professor pierces a newly created cocoon shielding students from learning about America’s historic mistreatment toward people of color — or the effort to achieve social justice.

And if someone dares to speak up against this Idaho Freedom Foundation attempt to create a chilling effect in the classroom — which is what Rep. Chris Mathias, D-Boise, the sole Black member of Idaho’s Legislature, attempted — Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, will be there to object.

Don’t come here if you’re a member of the LGBTQ community.

Not only have lawmakers refused for more than a decade to add the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to a state Human Rights Act that forbids discrimination in employment, housing, education and public accommodations, they also found new avenues. Idaho’s ban on transgender girls and women competing in athletics triggered similar efforts across much of the country.

Don’t come here if you’re a progressive.

This is a one-party state with two wings — hard-right conservative and wingnuts. Outside of about a fifth of the Legislature, there’s not an elected Democratic state or congressional figure in sight.

The political means at your disposal to fight back are quickly evaporating.

There was a time when progressives and moderates could join together and outflank the reactionary GOP-led Legislature through the initiative and referendum ballot measure. But the Legislature just sealed off that opportunity.

Likewise, don’t look to the federal government or even the 14th Amendment for much help. Every year, this Legislature seems to get bolder about nullifying federal laws and defying the U.S. Constitution.

In the words of Idaho Falls Republican activist Doyle Beck: “I’m counting on state lawmakers to do the right thing, to once and for all send the left packing.”

Mission accomplished.

They’re packing.

Don’t come here if you’re poor.

It’s been 12 years since Idaho raised its minimum wage, which is stuck at $7.25 an hour.

To make sure that doesn’t change, legislators a few years ago precluded individual communities from adjusting their own minimum wage. And efforts by working people to band together have encountered the obstacles Idaho’s so-called right to work law created for nearly four decades

When there was talk this year of protecting renters against price gouging, only a watered-down version got anywhere.

And don’t come here if you intend to build or expand a business.

You’ll immediately run up against a state that can’t quite get it right about educating its chronically underpaid, underskilled workforce. Years of encouraging more Idaho high school graduates to “go on” toward more education have fallen flat — in part because years of underfunding higher education have led to tuition increases beyond the means of many Idaho families.

And as mentioned above, good luck recruiting talent from outside Idaho — parents of young children, working moms, minorities and progressives — to build a diverse staff here.

Here’s who’s left?

Anyone who looks like the predominant members of the Legislature: Affluent, older, white, Republican and male.

Like the man said: We are what we are. You’re not going to change us.

Online: The Lewiston Tribune

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Without full vaccination, Idaho is rushing headlong into the great COVID-19 unknown

May 07

Idaho Statesman

It seems quaint now to remember when we thought with hope that Idaho would achieve herd immunity to COVID-19 and approach something like an 80% vaccination rate.

Sitting at around 40% today and beginning to plateau, our hopes of coming even close to mass vaccination are quickly becoming dashed.

Let’s be clear: The only way to truly get “back to normal” is for nearly everyone to get the vaccine. It’s as simple as that. If everyone gets vaccinated, it’s game over for the novel coronavirus.

Back to normal means children back in school with no masks, filling Albertsons Stadium with 36,000 fans for a Boise State football game, getting our restaurants and bars back to full production. If you want to go back to normal, get the vaccine.

Alas, with each passing day of surplus supply of the vaccine, it’s becoming increasingly clear that’s just a pipe dream.

Despite that, many people are ready to have a normal life again. Those who are vaccinated are ready to go back to restaurants and bars, movie theaters, sporting events, parties and social gatherings. “Hey, I’m vaccinated, what do I care?”

If you take the example of a football game at Albertsons Stadium, if we hit 50% vaccinated, about 18,000 people could be assumed to be vaccinated, while 18,000 wouldn’t be. With the virus — and its growing number of variants — still in circulation, it’s almost certain that there would be spread among some of those 18,000 unvaccinated people. Some of them might have no or few symptoms. Some might get slightly ill. Some might get really sick. Some might require hospitalization. Some might die.

Now that the vaccine is readily available to everyone 16 and older, it has become an individual choice when it comes to vaccination. If people refuse to be vaccinated and then get sick and die, that’s on them.

How many is the big question.

An ongoing goal, one that Gov. Brad Little has emphasized from the get-go, is to not overwhelm the health care system. If a couple dozen people become ill and require hospitalization, that won’t be a big deal. If a couple dozen turn around and spread it to a few hundred, who spread it to a few hundred more, then it becomes a problem.

Because, remember, for those who choose to reject the vaccine, it’s not just your health care that you’re affecting. If you and other unvaccinated people overwhelm the health care system, that could lead to crisis standards of care, forcing medical providers to decide who gets life-saving treatment and who doesn’t.

One need only look at India to see that the pandemic is far from over and that danger still lurks. India recorded 400,000 new cases on Wednesday alone. Deaths are spiking, approaching 4,000 daily. It is a sad commentary on our country that while thousands of people in India are dying every day, illustrating the staying power of this awful virus, some Americans refuse to get the vaccine. Let us repeat: If we all get the vaccine, problem solved.

And it’s not just COVID-19. If our health care system were to be overwhelmed with those patients, that will affect people who go into the hospital for heart attacks, injuries from a car crash or treatment for cancer.

We do have some things going for us, though.

The vaccination rate for those most vulnerable, those 65 and older, is around 68% in Idaho. That’s not great, but it’s better than the 28% we’re seeing in the rest of the population.

Still, that’s about 92,000 Idahoans older than 64 who are still unvaccinated. That’s a scary number.

Some might say they’re not getting the vaccine because they’ve already had COVID-19. Idaho has had 188,435 recorded cases so far — and who knows how many that have not been reported — so we can take them out of the equation, right? The problem is that we don’t know how long that natural immunity lasts, and there are many stories of people getting COVID-19 multiple times — and landing in the hospital.

Regardless, many Idahoans and many Idaho institutions are rushing headlong into a new normal.

School districts in the Treasure Valley are planning graduation ceremonies without limitations, and the Ford Idaho Center is “fully open,” according to its general manager, to host graduation ceremonies and other events without attendance restrictions, even though Idaho is still in Stage 3 (remember those stages?), which means, “Gatherings should be limited to 50 or fewer people and adhere to the physical distancing and sanitation requirements.”

Of course, those were all mere suggestions, anyway, so no need to follow them if you didn’t want to.

While herd immunity and “back to normal” are likely to elude us, we are shaping what a “new normal” looks like through every vaccination and each effort to protect our vulnerable residents and our health care system.

We suspect that as time marches on and it becomes clear that about half the population won’t get the vaccine, we’ll start to see the private sector pick up the slack, recognizing that the best and only way to get back to business as usual is through vaccinations. But a return to “business as usual” for most of our businesses and institutions will be redefined if we don’t vaccinate enough to eradicate the virus.

Getting on an airplane, traveling to another city or country, sending your kid to school, getting service at a restaurant or store, or perhaps even getting employment might mean showing your vaccination card.

Until then, though, we’re sort of heading into a great unknown, as more people remove their masks and go back to life, many without being vaccinated. But do we have enough people vaccinated to prevent massive outbreaks, hospitalizations and deaths, which is what we saw in 2020?

Whether we like it or not, we’re all about to find out.

Online: Idaho Statesman