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Guest Post: The Inherent Inequities of Property Taxes

February 12th, 2008 by Halli

By Richard Larsen

The Holt Arena is a tremendous benefit to Eastern Idaho, and the Pocatello area especially. As the home to ISU sports, the Simplot Games, the Dodge National Circuit Finals Rodeo, community events, high school sporting events, high school graduations, and concerts, it would be safe to say that we all have benefited from and enjoyed the Dome. Consequently, it was with mixed emotions that I witnessed the rejection of the proposed property tax increase to fund necessary enhancements to the facility.

It seems to me that the vote has nothing to do with the critical relationship between the communities of Pocatello and Chubbuck and Holt Arena. Instead, it has everything to do with already exorbitant property tax levels being required of the citizens of Bannock County.

Regrettably, the pattern for local leaders here is to always lay the burden on tax payers, and property tax-payers in particular. Whatever the cause, worthy or not, the tax-payer is the bottomless well the local leaders draw from to finance their projects.

The firm declaration from voters last week was, “enough is enough.” With Bannock County already struggling under the highest property tax levels in the state, local leaders went to the “well” one too many times. Yes it’s true that we benefit from the Dome, and we all enjoy the privileges with its presence in the community, but increasing property taxes was clearly not the answer.

Property taxes are perhaps the most inequitable and least forgiving of all the taxes imposed by government. It has no “ability to pay” provision. If you are unable to pay your property taxes, the government can seize your property. For those living on a fixed income, this is a genuine concern. Many of the letters to the editor regarding the bond election were from those with limited resources and income to subsist on. Although the purported $7 per month on property taxes may have not broken the bank, so to speak, on top of everything else it can be insurmountable for someone living primarily on Social Security and hoping every month they can make ends meet and hold onto their homes.

One additional inequity posed by the bond election was that there are many people who live in the county but own property in Pocatello or Chubbuck. Those people were precluded from voting on the bond proposal, even though their taxes on their property located within city limits would be affected based on the outcome of the election. Seems to me that there was a war fought a couple hundred years ago based on that same concept of taxation without representation. Not a good policy.

Usually, when the local taxing authorities demand more funding, another bond election is placed before the voters at the least opportune time. Not when the major elections are held to ensure high voter turnout, but on odd dates that will ensure a low turnout and the greater probability that the sponsoring entity can marshal its forces and assure approval of the bond. That is, until last week.

My father, Allan Larsen, was a gubernatorial candidate when the 1% initiative limiting property tax levels was placed before voters. He always maintained that there were two major quandaries with property taxes, one philosophical and one practical. Philosophically, property taxes create the perception that although we are ostensibly buying real estate, we’re instead just renting our homes from the government. Inability to pay our property taxes allows the government to take our homes from us, like the landlord that would evict us for failure to pay the rent. It seems inconceivable that in America where the promise of owning property could be so fundamental to us, that we keep paying the government for property that we’ve already paid for, and if we can’t, the government can evict us. Even long after we’ve finished paying off our mortgages, the government continues as a de facto landlord.

Practically, the worst position is reserved for business owners and landlords of rental units who must defray rising property tax assessments with higher prices and rising rental rates. Landlords and business owners are essentially tax collectors for local government, raising prices and rental rates to pay for ever increasing property taxes. They have no home-owner’s exemption that affords them protection of indexed rates on their taxes.

Property tax law changes in the past few years have created distorted incentives for our local units of government to raise their budgets. The Legislature removed the only state required property tax and replaced it with sales tax. The cities and county saw this as an opportunity to raise their budgets and did so to the tune of millions of dollars knowing that the public would not notice since their overall property taxes dropped last year. And true to form, Bannock County, and the cities of Pocatello and Chubbuck had massive increases in their property taxes this year gobbling up the tax relief the State provided by last years special session of the legislature. Now this year, our tax burden is higher because not only are we paying more sales tax, but our “property tax relief” was all spent by our cities and county. Consequently, property taxes have become even more of a millstone around the financial necks of home owners, small businesses, and renters. This requires much more attention in a future column.

There’s an aphorism that taxation is the art of plucking a chicken with the least possible squawking. In light of the double-edged sword of property taxes, it’s easy to see why they continually rile taxpayers. Taxes may be a necessary evil, but the most pernicious of all is the property tax.

Perhaps the generous Pappenberg donation of $1.5 million of Driggs real estate should be used as seed money for a capital campaign for Dome improvement in lieu of additional property tax imposition on home owners.

Dubby Holt, for whom the facility was named, was a pragmatist, and I can’t imagine him objecting to selling the naming rights on the Dome. He would have probably been the first to argue in favor of renaming the facility if Simplot or someone else were to make a sizeable donation to provide for the necessary improvements. Have you noticed that there’s no longer a Delta Center in Salt Lake City, but there’s an EnergySolutions Arena there that looks just like it?

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Posted in Constitutional Issues, Guest Posts, Pocatello Issues, Taxes | No Comments »

Guest Post: A Chance for Idaho to Break Stranglehold of Federal Judiciary?

February 11th, 2008 by Halli

From Bryan Fischer, Idaho Values Alliance

A blatantly activist ruling issued by federal judge Lynn Winmill may provide an intriguing opportunity for Idaho to take the national lead in breaking the chokehold an overstepping federal judiciary has had for decades on state affairs and state sovereignty.

Judge Winmill issued a preliminary finding last Thursday on a lawsuit first launched in 1990 that deals with state funding for public school buildings.

Winmill erred in a significant number of ways. First, the federal constitution gives Judge Winmill no legal authority even to accept such a case. Appellate jurisdiction over state supreme court decisions is awarded only to the United States Supreme Court, meaning that a lower federal court has no constitutional authority even to accept this case.

Idaho should ignore Winmill simply on the grounds that to accept his jurisdiction over this case is to be complicit with him in violating the federal constitution, which all judges take an oath to uphold. In fact, the only way our state supreme court justices could respond to an order from Winmill would be to violate their own sacred oath to uphold the federal constitution.

If the plaintiffs want to appeal the state supreme court decision, their exclusive constitutional remedy is a direct appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

It’s likely that the plaintiffs instead chose to put their case before Judge Winmill for the straightforward reason that he has a well-deserved reputation as an activist judge. He’s the judge who told the Boise Rescue Mission, for example, how to run its ministry, arrogantly trampling on its constitutional guarantee of the free exercise of religion. Winmill, plaintiffs figured, could be persuaded to ignore the federal constitution and give them the ruling they were looking for.

Plus, they know that the U.S. Supreme Court would be highly unlikely to accept their appeal, meaning their only hope was to find a federal judge with a reputation for ignoring constitutional principles and a willingness to legislate from the bench. They appear to have found their man in Judge Winmill.

Further, the lawsuit, rather than naming the Idaho Supreme Court as an entity, named the five individuals who were sitting on the Supreme Court panel that issued the 2005 ruling dismissing this case. But one of those justices has retired, and two others were only serving temporarily on the court since two justices recused themselves, having ruled on the same lawsuit previously at the district court level.

Judge Winmill said in his statement the only thing that could make the suit go away is if the current Supreme Court orders some kind of state remedy for the funding dispute. But the Supreme Court dismissed this case in 2005, meaning that from a legal standpoint, it no longer has any kind of legal existence. It’s over, the lawsuit brought to a terminal end. A federal judge who has no legal authority to rule in the first place cannot simply order a case to be “undismissed.”

Lastly, there is no one even to do what this federal judge might order to be done. It takes three state supreme court justices to make a decision, and there are only two justices left whom Winmill could order around even if he had the right to do so. The other three current justices are not even named in the lawsuit, meaning whatever Winmill does in the end legally doesn’t even apply to them. They would have no responsibility, legal authority, or legal right to enforce Winmill’s order.

Thus we are faced with the delicious prospect of a state supreme court simply ignoring an arrogant and over-reaching federal judge, striking a blow for judicial restraint and state sovereignty in one fell swoop.

What can Winmill do? His only option would appear to be to throw some kind of temper tantrum, and even that would be fun to watch.

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Posted in Constitutional Issues, Education, Guest Posts, Idaho Legislature | No Comments »

Guest Post: President Bush Continues to Advance Culture of Life

February 11th, 2008 by Halli

From David Ripley, Idaho Chooses Life

Last week’s CPAC convention was headlined by John McCain’s decision to show up and Mitt Romney’s decision to withdraw. But a remarkably important part of that conservative gathering was George Bush’s address to the backbone of the Republican Party.

A good portion of the president’s speech involved the fight for Life – a value that Bush has consistently advanced during his seven years in office.

LifeNews.Com quotes the president as proudly reminding the faithful that, “On matters relating to America’s moral compass, we have defended human life.”

And as attitudes sort out vis-à-vis McCain’s likely nomination as the Republican standard bearer, President Bush urged conservatives to bear in mind that “…we need judges who respect our values, do not follow the political winds and revere the plain meaning of our Constitution.”

There is plenty of room to challenge the Bush record – but America owes him a great debt for his steadfast defense of the most vulnerable among us.

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Posted in Family Matters, Guest Posts, Idaho Pro-Life Issues | No Comments »

Idaho Abortion Anti-Coercion Bill to be Heard in Committee

February 8th, 2008 by Halli

Perhaps you’ve never considered the pressure that can be brought to bear on a pregnant woman or teen by those who want her to abort her unborn baby. But in all too many cases, those who feel they have an interest in killing an innocent life will resort to threats and/or actual retribution to reach their goals.

What of the woman who is told she will lose her job if she doesn’t abort? Or the teen whose parents threaten to throw her out of the house if she carries her baby to term? Some pregnant women are even threatened with physical harm to themselves or their unborn babies if they refuse an abortion.

Currently, real or threatened coercion to abort a baby is legal. But that will change if House Bill 464 is passed by the Idaho Legislature.

David Ripley, of Idaho Chooses Life, and Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, have brought HB 464 to the House Health and Welfare Committee where it is expected to be heard sometime next week.

As Bryan Fischer, Idaho Values Alliance, points out, this Anti-Coercion bill is one both sides of the abortion issue can support because it is actually pro-choice. And isn’t “choice” what pro-aborts are all about? Let’s give all women the choice to carry their babies to term. They already have the ability to choose to abort them.

Help make Idaho safer for pregnant women. Please contact members of the House Health and Welfare Committee to urge them to support this bill.

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Posted in Family Matters, Idaho Legislature, Idaho Pro-Life Issues | No Comments »

Guest Post: Tiller Gets Kansas Supreme Court to Hear His Plea for Help

February 7th, 2008 by Halli

From David Ripley, Idaho Chooses Life

As we last reported, abortionist George Tiller and his attorneys refused to comply with a judge’s order that they turn over medical records to a grand jury investigating his operation in Kansas. Tiller’s attorneys went to the Kansas Supreme Court and begged them for protection from the order.

As they have done before, the justices agreed to hold a formal hearing and temporarily blocked a lower court from getting Tiller’s records. Attorneys for the grand jury and Tiller have until next Monday to submit legal briefs. According to LifeNews.Com, the Supreme Court of Kansas is supposed to issue a ruling in the matter by February 25th.

The pro-Life website quotes Mary Kay Culp, Director of Kansans for Life as saying,

“It continues to be heartening to see the Wichita grand jury ask for evidence, and it continues to be amazing how the powers that be are determined to keep that evidence away from them.”

While the Supreme Court’s rather extraordinary intervention in a grand jury investigation is disheartening, there is good reason to believe that they will eventually allow the grand jury to review Tiller’s records – so long as the identities of the women are protected. This is, after all, a rehash of the battle waged over a two year period by former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline.

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Posted in Family Matters, Guest Posts, Idaho Pro-Life Issues | No Comments »

House Highlights, February 6

February 6th, 2008 by Halli


By Representative Tom Loertscher

This place can be full of firsts, and the other day there was a first that brought a strange feeling to the two-tiered House Chambers. A bill was sponsored from the balcony and as I looked around on the main floor, I noticed that my colleagues were looking around trying to see who was speaking. Then the “lights” would go on and they would realize that the voice was coming from upstairs. This will take some getting used to.

Another somewhat strange item was a marriage and family therapist bill that was heard in Health and Welfare. All who testified were in favor of the measure and to a person indicated that there was no opposition of any kind. Even after a motion was made to send it to the full House, it drug on for quite some time. A former Legislator that was there for the hearing said to me that it was apparent that some folks aren’t able to know when they are ahead and when to keep still. I told her that it reminded me a lot of when I am trying to move the cows to a different pasture and my dog stations himself in the gate.

Issues are beginning to advance through the process and we are seeing more activity on the floor of the House, most of which have continued to be housekeeping in nature. The most interesting work continues in the committees. One issue leaving State Affairs was a bill to allow sale of liquor on election day. I voted no. It is not so much that it will make a whole lot of difference, as it is the mixed message we send with this type of change. It was promoted as a revenue raiser.

One question that was asked and not fully answered was why the State is in the liquor business. The director of the State Liquor Dispensary told the committee that their number one responsibility is to promote sobriety. And yet they want to sell more. As I used to tell my kids, where I went to school that doesn’t add up. It reminds me of a story I heard once about the Russian peasants that got depressed growing potatoes and therefore drank more vodka which necessitated growing more potatoes with which to make more vodka.

Another little item brought to the committee was a proposal to designate the Three Bear Soil as the official state soil. You can imagine the puns that came from that one, but we dug our way out by returning it to sponsor. It was reminiscent of the time a bill was brought to make the rattlesnake the official State Reptile. Not very many bit on that one either.

With our close quarters it is hard not hear what is going on around you. Two of my close neighbors on the floor were discussing aquifer recharge as a possibility given the snow that is coming this year. I couldn’t help but to reflect on the last big battle that took place with Idaho Power a couple of years ago. One said that there is rumor that Palisades will fill this spring, another said he had heard it would not. All of this discussion probably means that no one really knows how much water there will be.

And on a personal note, if what is happening at my ranch is any indication there is a lot of snow piled up, most of which at the present time is in the roadways. It has been more than a decade since the snow pack at our place has looked like this. Going home this weekend provided an opportunity to dig things out at home to make room for more snow. We are not complaining by any means, after all we have been asking for this.

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Posted in Guest Posts, Idaho Legislature, Politics in General, Rep. Tom Loertscher, Taxes | No Comments »

Guest Post: Indoctrination vs. Teaching, Part II

February 6th, 2008 by Halli

By Richard Larsen

A few weeks ago we addressed here the issue of education versus indoctrination. Therein I provided anecdotal evidence of a few teachers not teaching, but instead, indoctrinating. The evidence was drawn primarily from each of my children’s experiences from public secondary education through their higher education experience at Idaho State University.

One such referenced experience was an upper division literature course that my daughter took last semester. The instructor for that class, an adjunct instructor in the Foreign Languages Department, took exception to the allegations that he was indoctrinating instead of teaching. In a letter to the editor last week he identified himself by name and knew he was the instructor in question based on how I recounted my daughter’s experience in the class.

I questioned the propriety of pursuing this any further, even after his acrimonious letter. I’m accustomed to such criticism, and actually take solace in such attacks when they are aimed at me, for then I know they lack the substance to debate the basic tenets of my theses. Having substantially lost the argument, they must resort to ad hominem attacks against me personally.

I was also reluctant to pursue this any further because there are two segments of our citizenry in this great country who are my heroes: those who have or are serving in the military, and teachers. But considering that a few abuse their role as teachers, and indoctrinate rather than teach, it is incumbent upon us to stand up and seek to correct this impropriety. After all, we taxpayers pay their salaries and entrust them with our children to be taught, not to be opined to day after day.

The course in question was a critical theory class that according to the description in the university’s Course Catalogue was about “The application of critical theory to the reading of world literature.” If the course syllabus as provided by the instructor had on objective different than that, as the instructor indicated in his letter last week, his syllabus did not conform to the Course Catalogue. Consequently, he may have taught the wrong course, or at the very least, was guilty of “bait and switch” with the students.

In typical fashion for those who assume an unwarranted arrogance due to their position, the instructor questioned how I could pass judgment against his indoctrination efforts in the classroom when I had not even attended it. I would remind him that common in the practice of law and other segments of our society, is witness testimony. Witnesses testify and provide evidence that prove or negate allegations. In this case, not only the testimony of my daughter, but that of another older member of the same class afforded such testimony affirming what was previously alleged.

Both said when the assignment material was covered, the class was enjoyable and the instructor engaging. But, in the words of the other class member, “Almost every single day of class he would lecture us about how the United States was so bad and how France and Europe were so great. Whether the lessons called for such comparisons or not, almost every day was the same. One day I asked him to tell me one good thing about the United States and after a long pause he told me that you could get rich quick in the U.S. I was amazed.”

Perhaps the instructor can elucidate for me how this is not an effort at indoctrination. A critical study of world literature would necessitate some comparative cultural analysis and their respective weaknesses and strengths. But a daily denunciation of the U.S. as one of the students indicated, “like it was an obsession to him,” can hardly be labeled “teaching.” The instructor marveled in his letter to the editor how I could “portray [him] as a cardboard cut-out and [his] class as an indoctrination session.” Actually, I didn’t have to. He did that perfectly well on his own. In his own words, “Yes. The commies and socialists have arrived.”

He continues his defense in his letter stating that he implements “a discursive, Socratic method of teaching.” Based on the experiences of the witnesses, it was genuinely discursive, as regular digressions to proselytize his anti-American venom were in great abundance. Socratic? There wasn’t too much evidence to support that claim. A true Socratic method would have proposed both sides of the U.S. issue and challenged students in a defense of the U.S. as well. Perhaps when he focused on the material, it was a viable educational experience. It’s when he digressed beyond that with the daily rants against the country that allowed him the freedom to bash it that it was no longer teaching, and had crossed the line to indoctrination.

Daily spewing of dogmatic ideology that is not supported by fact and that may have marginal relationship to the educational material is indoctrination, not teaching!

As stated before, I received an absolutely superb education at ISU because of the incredible professors I had. Not only were they extremely proficient in their disciplines, but they were not dogmatic in their instructional style. As their lectures coincided with current events, they were open to contrary opinion and divergent perspectives. They allowed open discussion without intimidation, in true Socratic fashion, only demanding of the students that they know and understand the facts, and be able to substantiate their conclusions accordingly.

While none of my ISU professors taught as ideologues, they nonetheless had their firmly held opinions and they shared them as warranted. However, even though their opinions were expressed, their lessons and discussions were open and engaging, and they taught us how to think without telling us what to think.

As adamantly and publicly as the instructor in question defended himself, he may not actually know the difference between teaching and indoctrinating. Some of my professors are still there, and I would encourage him to attend classes taught by Ron Hatzenbuehler, Jack Owens, or Rick Foster. They know the difference. They have never been “stuck” in any decade as the instructor accused, and continue to enlighten.

We as taxpayers pay our teachers to teach, not opine ad nauseam nor indoctrinate. As parents, we entrust our children to them to be taught. If the instructor insists on substituting teaching with incessant opining, and hates America as he daily told his students, perhaps he should go to Venezuela. I’m sure they’d welcome him with open arms.

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Posted in Education, Guest Posts, Pocatello Issues, Politics in General | 8 Comments »

Guest Post: Response to Richard Larsen’s Article on Indoctrination

February 6th, 2008 by Halli

This is a letter to the editor, printed in the Idaho State Journal. It was written by an instructor at Idaho State University who took umbrage at being accused of indoctrination rather than teaching in this previously posted article by Richard Larsen.

“In a Dec. 16, 2007, editorial, one Richard Larsen expressed his view that “indoctrination” should not be used by educators. In his article, he referred to an Idaho State University professor and quoted from my syllabus.

I am that professor. Mr. Larsen referenced his daughter as the source of her indoctrination, and she has informed me that I am, indeed, the brainwasher he mentions.

The quote he provideduotation marks, to be one of pure fantasy, or what one might deem fictitious. [Scott, I extracted the quote from the online course catalogue which described the course as follows: “The application of critical theory to the reading of world literature.” Is that the course, I think course 367 or something like that?]

His article then goes on to characterize my class as one taught by a stereotypical liberal. How a writer who does not know me nor has ever attended my class can misquote my materials and portray me as a cardboard cut-out and my class as indoctrination session is beyond any idea of journalistic integrity.

As a writer, I would like to suggest that some fact-finding actually takes place at your newspaper prior to the publishing of opinionated writing full of disinformation and bordering on libel.

I must also mention this fact: Mr. Larsen observes that 25 years ago his perfect teachers were flawless in their ability to educate. I’d like to remind him that ISU is a university and that teachers from strange and exotic and cosmopolitan places like Illinois (and even foreign countries!) who hold degrees from schools much more highly rated than ISU now teaching at his alma mater. Yes. The commies and socialists have arrived. I’d also like to remind him it is the year of 2008.

As an educator for 15-plus years, I can speak for my profession in saying that we appreciated a president of a brokerage firms defense of his university-attending children, but what he calls indoctrination is, in fact, a discursive, Socratic method of teaching based on reading and writing.

Perhaps Mr. Larsen might learn a thing or two if he could see through his own neo-conservative, ill-informed soapbox rant of educator vilification. Or perhaps, he finds life quite comfortable in his 1983 mindset.”

Philip Kobylarz

Go here to read Richard Larsen’s answer to this letter.

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Posted in Education, Guest Posts, Pocatello Issues, Politics in General | No Comments »

Guest Post: House Committee Agrees to Consider Coercion Bill

February 5th, 2008 by Halli

From David Ripley, Idaho Chooses Life

House Committee Agrees to Consider Coercion Bill

The Idaho House Committee on Health & Welfare voted this afternoon to introduce legislation that would make coercion a crime when someone tries forcing a woman or girl to undergo an abortion. The bill was presented by Rep. Bob Nonini of Coeur d’Alene.

Legislators approved a motion by Rep. Pete Nielsen and Rep. Jim Marriott to formally consider the bill. The motion passed without voiced opposition – but two Democrats on the panel questioned Rep. Nonini fairly closely.

Rep. John Rusche (D-Lewiston) wanted to know why the bill did not protect women from being coerced into giving birth. Nonini explained that there existed a mountain of protection for the abortion option, including the federal FACE Act – but there was not similar defense of a woman’s right to choose life.

Rusche also wanted to know if this was much of a problem in Idaho. Nonini said that testimony would be presented at the full hearing indicating that more than half of all abortions apparently involve some form of coercion.

Rep. Margaret Henbest (D-Boise) asked questions related to language in the bill which makes it a crime to use force or threats of force to coerce a woman into abortion.

We could have a hearing on this ground-breaking legislation as early as Friday.

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Posted in Family Matters, Guest Posts, Idaho Legislature, Idaho Pro-Life Issues | No Comments »

Guest Post: Coerced Abortions Among College Athletes

February 2nd, 2008 by Halli

From David Ripley, Idaho Chooses Life

The Family Research Council reported yesterday on a little-known phenomenon – college athletes being forced into choosing between their athletic scholarships and giving their babies life.

The situation is so common and egregious that the NCAA Management Council has been driven into taking action. ESPN uncovered a scandal at Clemson University in which seven young women had been coerced into abortions from the Athletic Department – or face losing their scholarships, and their hopes for a degree. A similar situation was exposed at the University of Memphis.

On a 46-5 vote, the Council enacted a new rule, effective August 1, which will treat pregnancy as a “temporary disability”, and allow recovery time from a pregnancy so that a student’s eligibility to play sports is not jeopardized.

This is certainly a step forward, but one wonders how many girls have faced this awful choice.

We believe that such coercion ought to be made illegal in this country. No woman should be driven into committing abortion, and we will be presenting groundbreaking legislation to the Idaho Legislature this week.

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Posted in Education, Family Matters, Guest Posts, Idaho Pro-Life Issues | No Comments »

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