It’s been disheartening to see some members of the Idaho Legislature shoot down agency budgets as a way to protest what they see as social ills.
On Monday, the House killed the $629.8 million draft budget for higher education and sent it back to committee for changes.
Some lawmakers said they were motivated by a desire to cut spending and stick to the governor’s recommended budget of $628.4 million. (The draft budget actually spent less money from the general fund, but increased overall because of reshuffling of Public Building Fund money that would have gone toward a new College of Western Idaho health sciences building had voters passed a bond.)
The House’s debate over the higher ed budget wasn’t just about money, however. Some representatives used the vote as a chance to air their grievances about diversity and inclusion programs at universities.
We had hoped we’d moved past this nonsense last summer, when a group of lawmakers sent a letter to Boise State University decrying programs that supported minority groups and gender equity, but, here we are, still spinning our wheels over this non-issue. (That letter led to rumors that Boise State was segregating its graduation ceremony — it’s not — and wasting tuition money on diversity programs that were actually funded by a private grant.)
Middleton Rep. Tammy Nichols voted against the higher ed budget, saying, “I don’t feel that this is an appropriate way to be utilizing the funds of the taxpayers, to fund things that we have concerns with.”
Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, said the whole bureaucracy has “already turned left,” and lawmakers have to “figure out a way to stop rubber-stamping these budgets and begin to send a message that we do have a say in what’s taught and we do have a say on who they’re hiring, for what purposes they’re hiring them.”
We’re tired of this animosity toward our higher education system, and the childish ways some lawmakers are lashing out to try to uproot what they see as a liberal agenda. We want Idaho to have a reputation as a business-friendly, welcoming place with a robust education system and skilled workforce. This year’s legislative session in particular seems bent on weakening that.
Another example: The House also shot down the draft budget for Idaho Public Television, which at $8.8 million was already a 8.5% decrease from the current budget.
Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley, said she didn’t like the way “Idaho Reports,” the station’s news and political analysis program, portrayed the Legislature.
Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, said “public television is becoming a political bias machine.”
And to top it off, Rep. Nichols complained that “Clifford the Big Red Dog” on PBS features a lesbian couple, and “I don’t believe that as a whole that we should be promoting these agendas.”
Seriously? We’re discouraged by this seemingly growing line of thinking that the media is the enemy of the people and diversity is a threat.
Thankfully, some representatives did bring some reason to the discussion.
In regards to “Clifford,” Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, said, “That’s not an agenda. That’s a fact of life. There are lesbian and gay marriages.”
And Rep. Scott Syme, R-Caldwell, a member of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, which wrote the budget bill, reminded the House that Public Television funds the statewide emergency broadcast network.
“If you want to maintain that emergency broadcast network, and they tie into our National Guard, for any emergency situations that happen across the state, I would suggest a ‘yes’ vote,” he said.
We have elections coming up this year. Voters need to pay attention to lawmakers’ effectiveness and reasonableness. Are they handling with discernment the most basic and important tasks of governing — passing budgets, supporting schools, ensuring public safety — or are they using their roles to make political statements? We hope voters will take note and choose candidates in May and November who are level-headed and truly focused on leading this state through our biggest challenges — transportation, health care, property taxes, education — rather than pushing a social agenda.