Rep. Steve Berch Newletter - ELECTION ALERT edition

I will not let attacks on my honesty and integrity go unchallenged.
 
My opponent in the November general election recently posted the following on his Facebook page:  “Steve Berch may come and knock on your door. Here’s a ‘cheat sheet’ of questions you should ask him about his voting record.” He then listed 11 bills I voted against that voters should ask me about. This newsletter explains why I voted against these 11 bad bills (which make up only 0.004% of the over 2,500 pieces of legislation and motions I have voted on). 
 
I have published over 40 newsletters during my four years in office. The title of a bill tells you very little. You need to know the logic and reason behind my vote to understand why my votes were in the best interests of my constituents.

My opponent and his allies are also attacking me by playing the tired, old “liberal” name-calling card. But this time they are letting an organization from Texas do their dirty work by attempting to reduce me to a single numerical score based on an arbitrary method for rating my votes on selected bills.  
 
But wait – take a look at who is sits at the top of their list!  I welcome being ranked on the opposite end of a scale that exalts ultra-extremists as the paragons of legislative virtue.

All these legislators (Heather Scott, Chad Christensen, Dorothy Moon (now Chair of the Idaho Republican Party), Ron Mendive, Christy Zito, Doug Okuniewicz, Priscilla Giddings and Vito Barbieri) scored 95% -100% on this extreme “conservative” ranking. 
 
As always, please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments. My contact information is provided at the end of this email.

 

The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth


I have voted against many bills with good-sounding titles that aren’t so good when you read the rest of the bill. The votes cast against these bills are often used by the opposition to smear an incumbent and mislead voters. In fact, some bills are never expected to actually become law. Instead, they are specifically written for the sole purpose of creating political talking points before an election.  
 
How a vote is cast is a half-truth. Why a vote is cast provides the whole truth.
 
Here’s the whole truth. Here’s why I voted against these 11 bills my opponent wants to use to smear me and mislead voters. As you read this, ask yourself how many of your Idaho legislators ever sent you multiple, detailed newsletters during each legislative session to explain why they voted for or against a wide range of bills?
 
I’m guessing my opponent would not be among them.  He refused to appear with me on a vidoetaped interview and he has refused to answer any questions put to him by impartial organizations such as the League of Women Voters.

Voters expect more than being given the silent treatment from their candidates. It's insulting.


ECONOMIC SECURITY – INCOME TAX
 
I voted against H380 and H436, which lowered income tax rates and issued one-time tax rebate checks to taxpayers because these bills are fiscally irresponsible. If you don’t pay your mortgage or rent for 12 months, you don’t have a surplus at the end of the year– you have an unmet financial obligation.
 
Here are just some of the financial obligations the legislature ignored when they gave away one billion “surplus” dollars:

  • $1+ billion backlog in deferred and ignored K-12 public school building maintenance.
  • $500+ million backlog in existing road and bridge maintenance (not including new construction to meet the needs of growth).
  • $500 million to build a new, safer prison. 

The passing of these bills guarantees that you will be voting on school bonds and levies nearly every year, the grocery tax will never go away, and your property taxes will continue to go up and remain high. Here’s how I explained my vote for each of these bills in earlier newsletters:
 
Use the state’s budget surplus to fund a huge tax cut (H380). This bill takes over $380 million from the general fund, money the state desperately needs for education, transportation and vital services, and spends it on a tax break that provides the greatest benefit for very wealthy Idahoans who need it the least. If this surplus was invested in public education, school districts could retire expiring bonds and levies and avoid increasing your property taxes with new ones.
 
Tax cut and rebate (H436). Instead of using the state’s $1.9 billion surplus to address unaffordable housing and soaring property taxes, the legislature gave away $600 million of the surplus in the form of a tax cut that goes mostly to the very wealthy and corporations – and you got a one-time rebate check that would buy a few tanks of gas . . . maybe. Had the legislature used the surplus to pay off school bonds and levies, it would have provided significant, immediate property tax relief – and on-going relief because the bonds and levies would be paid off.
 
When you connect the dots, it is clear that the Idaho Legislature is responsible for most of these bonds and levies in the first place. By being last among the 50 states in per student funding of public education, you have been forced to cover the funding gap created by the legislature.  
 
 
ECONOMIC SECURITY – PROPERTY TAX
 
I voted against H389, which jammed several tax-related changes into one bill without public review, testimony or analysis. It was the poster child for how not to write a tax bill. Here’s how I explained my vote in an earlier newsletter:
 
Property tax changes (H389).  This 26-page law was pushed through the legislature in record time - with no financial analysis and no public testimony. It stitched together multiple tax-related changes that legislators barely read and no one fully understood. What it didn’t do is provide any form of meaningful property tax relief. It only marginally increased the homeowner’s exemption to $125,000. At the same time, it eliminated the circuit-breaker allowance for thousands of disabled and elderly Idahoans living on a fixed income
 
I have consistently advocated to completely repeal of the cap on the homeowners’ exemption. Had the legislature done that, your exemption would been $175,000 in 2022 and an estimated $225,000 in 2023. This bill (H389) prevents you from receiving that property tax relief. Nearly every mayor and every member of every city council in the Treasure Valley – most of whom are conservatives – have criticized this bill. In fact, this bill was so bad, that the legislature had to pass another bill (H481) to fix the harm it did to the disabled and elderly. I voted for this fix-it bill. 
 

BUSINESS/JOBS
 
I voted against H291 (a so-called Business Bill of Rights) because of the potential harm it would do to employees and consumers. Here’s how I explained my vote in an earlier newsletter:
 
Bill of Rights for Businesses (H291). This bill allows a business to stay open no matter what the risk of doing so may pose to public health or safety (e.g. a natural disaster, the outbreak of a fatal contagious disease with no cure, etc.). I voted against this reckless act of legislative demagoguery. This was really a “Business Owner’s Bill of Rights.”  When we write laws that impact businesses, we need to consider not only business owners, but also employees and consumers. We need to strike a balance between the needs of all parties, not just one at the expense of the others.
 
I voted against H393, a so-called “all jobs are essential” bill. This rhetorically-motivated bill would be unworkable in real life. I did not write about this bill in an earlier email, so I’ll address it here:
 
Limit on declaration of emergencies (H393). This poorly worded bill was in response to the heated rhetoric during the height of the pandemic. It puts a vague constraint on how the state can respond to any emergency of any type, magnitude or duration. Specifically, it says the emergency cannot place “unnecessary restrictions” on a person or persons. This is the kind of sloppy legislation that leads to multi-million dollar lawsuits (funded by taxpayers) challenging what is or isn’t “unnecessary” during any unknown future situation.  I voted against this bill – not because I don’t think jobs are essential, but because it is bad legislation driven by emotion and politics instead of clear-headed critical thinking.
 
 
EDUCATION
 
I voted against H294, the Strong Students Grant and Strong Students Scholarship Program which would use taxpayer dollars to pay for private and religious school tuition. Here’s how I explained my vote in an earlier newsletter:
 
Allow Strong Student Scholarship public money to pay for private school tuition (H294). This is a voucher bill, pure and simple.  The existing scholarship program helps qualified families with education expenses that would supplement the education of their child enrolled in a public school. This bill changes the law to allow nearly $5 million in on-going Idaho taxpayer dollars to give an estimated 800 students approximately $6,041 annually to pay for tuition at private and religious schools. An additional $30 million in one-time federal dollars can also be used for this purpose. I believe in the conservative principle of individual responsibility. If someone wants to send their child to a private school, that’s their choice – and they should pay for their choice with their money, not their neighbor’s taxpayer dollars.
 
I believe in school choice and I do not support eliminating the choices currently available to Idahoans. I am concerned about any bill that shifts money from one choice to support another. I would prefer education funding be a rising tide that raises all boats.
 
I voted against H364, the so-called Free Speech on College Campuses bill, which facilitates legalized intimidation. Here’s how I explained my vote in an earlier newsletter:
 
Limit Idaho universities and colleges to control activities pertaining to speech on campus (H364).  This bill, titled “Protecting Critical Thinking in Higher Education Act” has absolutely nothing to do with critical thinking. It is peppered with vague and ill-defined terminology that lets anyone say nearly anything they want, when they want, wherever they want on a college campus without being accountable for the consequences of their actions. This includes attempts to harass other students who may hold different viewpoints – all under the guise of “free speech.”
 
Buried in this bill are punitive, financial penalties. A college or university could pay at least $5,000 should someone sue that their “free speech” was violated (such as the posting of neo-Nazi flyers BSU removed from its campus a few years ago). This threat of legal intimidation will result in settling complaints with taxpayer dollars to avoid going to court, or using taxpayer dollars for legal fees to defend themselves in court. I voted against this horrendous bill which is not about critical thinking or free speech, but rather statutory intimidation of Idaho colleges, universities, administrators, professors and staff.
 
 
DEFENDING IDAHO
 
I voted against H90, which supposedly protects Idaho’s monuments and memorials. In reality, it usurps the will of local citizens. Here’s how I explained my vote against this ridiculous bill in an earlier newsletter:
 
Certain streets and statues cannot be renamed or moved without legislature approval (H90). This bill is a solution to a problem that hasn’t existed in the 130 year history of the state. If you believe in the Republican Party principle – as I do – that government is best when it is closest to the people, then you’ll understand why I voted against this piece of legislation that inserts the heavy hand of state government into an area that should clearly be the responsibility of the duly elected local government under whose jurisdiction the streets and statues reside.
 
I voted against H322, an unconstitutional bill that supposedly protects Idaho from federal actions. I did not write about this bill in an earlier email, so I’ll address it here:
 
State nullification of actions by the federal government (H322). This bill would enable any one legislator who complains about any action by the federal government they didn’t like to launch a legislative process that could result in the state declaring that federal action to be “null and void.”  I agree with many of my constituents that there are a lot of things the federal government does that I don’t like. But this bill – had it become law – would result in an endless series of fruitless and expensive court cases funded by your tax dollars. The purpose of this piece of political folderol is primarily designed to help some candidates score political points with their voter base in advance of a primary election.
 
 
ELECTIONS
 
I voted against H223, which purports to stop so-called Ballot Harvesting but actually punishes elderly and disabled voters. Here’s how I explained my vote in an earlier newsletter:
 
Criminalize helping a neighbor drop off their absentee ballot (H223).  This "Criminalize Good Samaritans" bill turns an act of kindness into a crime.  It will convict you of a felony if you help your elderly or disabled neighbor who can't drive by delivering their legal, signed and sealed ballot to the county elections office in time to be counted. I voted against this voter suppression bill because it is cruel, heartless and un-American. And to re-iterate what has been repeatedly proven – including the investigation of false claims made by a deranged pillow salesman – there is no evidence of voter fraud in Idaho.
 
I voted against H344, which makes it more difficult for qualified citizens to cast their vote. Here’s how I explained my vote in an earlier newsletter:
 
Voter identification requirements (H344). This voter suppression bill solves a problem that doesn’t exist. It places unnecessary restrictions on voter identification that will make it more difficult for eligible citizens to vote, including the elderly, college students and residents of tribal lands. I voted against this bill, which flies in the face of zero evidence of voter fraud or any failure of existing county election processes to identify and correct voter error or misconduct.