This article published with permission of the Idaho Freedom Foundation
Want to know how to get escorted out of a committee hearing in the Idaho capitol? It’s easy; just shine a light on how a proposed bill benefits the donors to Governor Little. That’s what I did, and the committee chair, Senator Kevin Cook, immediately called for a state police officer to escort me from the committee. There was no swearing, no yelling, no threats, just a calm detailing of some important facts, and the committee chair “lost it.”
In my testimony, I pointed out how the Idaho Launch Program, as proposed in House Bill H24, is problematic in principle, in costs, in accountability, and in outcomes. My testimony is as follows:
Markets have a great way of directing resources (workers) to their highest and best opportunities through wage and salary adjustments. If there aren’t enough workers in an industry, wages tend to rise and attract more workers. We’ve seen that recently in the service industry where worker shortages have led to rising wages like $15/hour at McDonald’s.
Replacing market forces with a government bureau trying to fill industry demands will lead to distortions, including deficiencies in other industries. Farmers will find it more difficult to find qualified labor when some workers are being bought off by a government training handout for more preferred industries.
Indeed, it is creepily communistic for the “workforce development council” (WFDC) to decide what careers high school graduates should go for and then use $8,500 in taxpayer dollars to entice them there. It’s like some politburo choosing what’s best for your kids.
The program is too costly at $102 million. For perspective, the entire WFDC budget only expended, at most, $6.5 million for three years up through 2022. Then last year, it exploded to $34.6 million, and now Idaho Launch proposes another $102 million. It’s outrageous growth.
Also, the governor is requesting $80 million of the $102 million to come from the special session designated “in-demand career fund.” That is the entire fund, $80 million. But in his own budget requests, the Governor already proposed $75 million from the same fund for the permanent building fund. You can’t spend the same dollar twice — where will the extra money come from?
The WFDC are unelected appointees with no oversight. Who watches over the WFDC? Who oversees the spending to make sure the money truly achieves the desired results? What if the training is inadequate for the careers? What if kids change majors? What if the WFDC doesn’t read the industries correctly? Who makes sure the program works the way they purport it will? None of these questions are contemplated in the bill.
The only “oversight” comes directly from the Governor’s office. This isn’t a labor department bill; it’s not an education department bill; it’s a special program bill being directed through the WFDC, which is directly under the governor’s office. There is zero accountability for how the funds are spent and how the program is supposed to function. See the WFDC organizational chart.
Finally, and this is what raised the ire of the committee chair when I started to say it, the WFDC is composed of various appointees, many business leaders, a few bureaucrats, and a couple of legislative members. When big business dominates the council directing over $100 million for worker training, where do you think the WFDC will send the money? Their own industries!
Yes, this bill is fraught with cronyism and no accountability. It is an apparent payoff for friends of the Governor, and here are the receipts:
- Representative Blanksma, the House sponsor, said in committee that “if Doug Sayer needs some welders, then this bill makes sure he can get those welders” through the Launch grants. Now, Doug Sayer is a big business leader of Premier Technologies. Premier Technologies donated $2,500 to the Brad Little campaign and $25,000 just this January to the Friends of Brad Little PAC. Doug Sayer himself donated the maximum amount to Brad Little.
The following individuals are appointees on the Workforce Development Council, and here are some details of how they have helped Governor Little in recent campaigns:
- Denise Hoehne, Winco Foods, chair of the WFDC – personally donated to Brad Little’s campaign.
- Ben Davidson, Idaho Central Credit Union – his company donated over $100,000 to ICULAC which supported many establishment candidates and Brad Little’s campaign.
- Sarah Griffin, Idaho Power – her company donated over $20,000 to Friends of Brad Little PAC.
- Tom Kealey, Idaho Commerce – personally donated over $5,700 to Brad Little’s campaign.
- Liza Leonard, Ball Ventures – her company just last month, donated $20,000 to Friends of Brad Little PAC and $168,000 since 2020 to campaigns for establishment legislators, many of whom voted for H24.
- James Pegram, J.R. Simplot – his company donated over $20,000 to Brad Little’s campaign.
- Matt Van Vleet, Clearwater Paper – his company donated $8,000 to Brad Little’s campaign.
- Daniel Puga, In Time Tec – his company donated $5,000 to the Idaho Prosperity Fund, run by the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry (IACI), which is promoting this bill.
- Marie Price, Idaho Forest Group – her organization donated $5,000 to Friends of Brad Little PAC and even more to the Idaho Prosperity Fund.
Back to the main point. Someone testifying in committee, who is composed and not belligerent, ought to be able to make whatever arguments they choose without being interrupted and hauled out of that committee. I made a point, uncomfortable as it was for some committee members and the governor, and in less than three seconds of pause after saying, “That’s good,” the committee chair, Senator Kevin Cook, called a state police officer forward to remove me.
Just what was the chairman afraid of? What could I possibly say that was too dangerous for the committee and the public to hear? You see the truth above. Crony governments thrive in the dark, and in this committee, anyone shining a light must be silenced. This is not how good government works. Idaho can do better.