The thing that matters most — what we should obsess about in regard to the 2016 legislative session, set to begin Jan. 11 — is whether lawmakers and the governor will use the session to expand government or to maximize liberty.
Will legislators fall into the trap of believing that they — and the government — have the solution to every problem? Or, will they adhere to the idea that conservative policies matter and that the people who elected them know best how to solve problems?
Many positive things can be accomplished come Jan. 11. With focus, the legislature should forge ahead with a powerful conservative agenda that includes the following goals.
• Keep state spending under control. To do so could allow as much as $100 to $200 million in tax relief, which Idahoans desperately need.
•Make the latest school choice innovation — Education Savings Accounts — available to Idaho schoolchildren and their families.
• Pass permitless concealed carry. Idahoans should have the same Second Amendment rights enjoyed by residents of other states including, most recently, Maine.
• Reduce the state’s reliance on the federal government and its grants and mandates. Idaho already leads the way in getting its federal dependency under control. Let’s continue that effort in 2016.
• Develop new tools and policies that help mitigate the risk of catastrophic fires on federal lands. Idaho can model itself after Utah, which passed legislation last year that’s right on the nose when it comes to safety, health and protecting property.
• Construct a pro-free market approach that helps people in the so-called Medicaid gap and use it to replace the failed, costly county-state indigent health care program.
• Protect worker freedom. Give government employees the freedom to choose a retirement path that’s right for them. Stop special arrangements that give labor unions power over people who don’t want to participate in them. End special pension perks for lawmakers.
• Pass student-data privacy protections so that the bulk collection of data on Idaho schoolchildren is curtailed.
• Tackle urban renewal abuses. At minimum, stop local governments from using urban renewal as a vehicle to build multimillion-dollar projects without taxpayer approval.
• Stop city minimum-wage ordinances, like the ones proposed for Coeur d’Alene and McCall.
• Increase government transparency and accountability.
There’s a lot of work to do. Will it be a 65-day legislative session, as House Speaker Scott Bedke hopes to achieve? Will the session drag on into April, as it did in 2015? Will it last into May, as has happened twice? No one cares. What does matter is whether the legislature adheres to, or gives lip service to, conservative ideas, and whether lawmakers trust the free market and the capacity of Idahoans to do great things when government gets out of the way.
Economic freedom, personal responsibility and limited government are more than just words: They are the yardstick legislators and the government will be measured against. These are the principles many Idaho voters trust their politicians adhere to every day, however long or short the 2016 legislative session may be.
By Wayne Hoffman, Idaho Freedom Foundation