Good luck finding consensus among Treasure Valley CEOs on politics and government policy.
With the 2016 presidential campaigns underway and the 2016 Idaho legislative session three months away, we asked the participants in Business Insider’s quarterly survey three questions:
If you could ask the candidates for president in 2016 one question, what would it be, and why? If Congress could pass or change just one law in the year ahead, what should it be, and why? If the Idaho Legislature could pass or change just one law in the year ahead, what should it be, and why?
The replies are scattershot. But some touch on familiar themes, like the need to expand the economy, better educate Idahoans to take on high-paying jobs and curb deficit spending.
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“Labor force participation levels remain close to 1977 levels, and median income is the lowest since 1995,” says Rob Perez, president and CEO of Northwest Bank. “While I am not saying it is, or should be, the purview of government to grow the economy, I am looking for things the government can do to help incent the private sector to make greater investment.”
Perhaps the closest thing to a common thread among respondents is skepticism of government’s effectiveness.
“Our education, tax, health care and budget systems (just to start) are broken,” says Matt Rissell, CEO of TSheets. “They aren’t sustainable, nor are they scaleable. Politicians have proven that they don’t know how nor are they willing to make the hard decisions to fix them.”
Rissell’s question for presidential candidates: “How are you going to be different?”
GILBERT: REFORM ENTITLEMENTS
William G. Gilbert, managing director of The Caprock Group, says he wants to hear specifics rather than bluster from presidential candidates’ proposals to reform entitlement programs . Social Security and Medicare account for nearly two-fifths of federal spending, compared with less than 20 percent for defense.
“I would ask: ‘Please describe your plan for both broad-based and specific entitlement reform, including how during your first term in office we will be able to measure your plan’s progress or success,” Gilbert says.
ANDERSON: PAY DOWN FEDERAL DEBT
Darrel Anderson, president and CEO of Idaho Power, worries that federal spending threatens the U.S. economy. “Make real and enforceable limits on the deficit spending while also paying down our national debt,” Anderson says.
He also wants Idaho legislators to ensure that schools provide a well-educated workforce.
VAUK: HELP FEED CHILDREN
Karen L. Vauk, president and CEO of The Idaho Foodbank, says Congress should renew the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act that expired in September when the threat of a government shutdown dominated discussions.
“Each year, expansion and funding of these programs that are vital for the 90,000 children struggling with hunger in Idaho are pushed to the back burner,” Vauk says. “These children deserve better.”
IDEAS FOR THE LEGISLATURE
Closer to home, the executives have widely different priorities for the Legislature.
Anderson wants lawmakers to align education to industry’s needs. Perez wants them to curb local governments’ power to claw back annual property tax increases they had not levied in prior years. Rissell favors an income-tax break for software engineers.
Jim Kissler, CEO of Norco, hopes Idaho devotes more funding to maintaining its highways and bridges without raising taxes. “In the 40s and 50s we could afford to build new highways and maintain our roads,” Kissler says. “Now, we can’t even maintain them.”
Karen Meyer, a serial tech entrepreneur, wants the state to fund prekindergarten. “All of our children need to be prepared to learn when they enter school; not just the fortunate ones whose parents can pay for preschool,” she says.
Gilbert says the Legislature should keep its eye on economic growth and education and avoid the “annual distraction” from “hot-button, emotionally-charged issues.”
“Too much time and effort is spent on issues that don’t have as significant an impact on the quality of life for Idahoans,” he says.