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Fiscally irresponsible, again

Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

There they stand in a photo sent to the state media – Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter and members of The Idaho State Lottery Commission proudly holding a large mock check for $41.5 million made out to the state. Governor Otter is clearly pleased with the yield from a regressive tax policy that relies substantially on the hopes of participants to hit the big one.

It is, however, another iteration of a myth that Idaho Republicans are the anti-tax increase, fiscally responsible party. In reality, the Governor peddles a bill of goods that relies on shell games and fiscal chicanery. He is betting most voters most of the time won’t see through the gimmicks which underfund education and keep kicking the day of reckoning down the road. He is probably correct, unfortunately.

All these anti-tax Republicans, who have taken the Grover Norquist pledge, for some reason exempt gaming from their list of taxes because an individual willingly pays this “tax,” which happens also to be a “sin tax.”

Taxpayers though are supposed to be happy that $17 million of that $41 million take will go to support the constitutional mandate to fund properly public education as if that will offset years of overall reductions in state support for public and higher education. But that is an integral part of the myth-making and shell games the Governor plays.

One has to concede the fiscal chicanery Republicans perpetrate gets lost in a sea of smoke and mirrors because it is complex, denies easy categorization and allows the GOP to paint a heavily biased picture that most of the time is not clarified by diligent journalists save the unusually perspicacious Marty Trillhaase of the Lewiston Tribune.

Another part of the GOP “starve education” plan started with Governor Dirk Kempthorne, who, along with many Republicans (the prominent exception being former Governor Phil Batt) started advocating borrowing against anticipated federal grant money to fund highway and infrastructure improvements. Proceeds from bond sales based on this premise became known as “Garvee” funding.

Then Republicans hit on the scheme of borrowing against anticipated sales tax revenue. This became “Star” funding.

Next, don’t be surprised if some Republican legislator doesn’t endorse the idea of borrowing against anticipated lottery revenue. Then we’ll have “Larvee” funding (Lottery Anticipated Revenue) to join with “Garvee” funding and “Star” funding, all coming under Republican governors and Republican dominated legislatures and all ways of borrowing against future anticipated revenues or federal grants. All are gimmicks to get around Idaho’s constitutional mandate not only to fund education properly but to do it with an honest balanced budget and not go into debt which mortgages the future our children inherit.

Borrowing against anticipated lottery revenue, however, compounds the “let’s pay for government mandates as much as possible on the backs of the tax-paying poor and the strapped middle class” philosophy many Republicans embrace by their actions if not also by their rhetoric.

Idaho also has a long history of flirting with and from time to time embracing slot machines and other games (including horse racing and dog racing with attendant betting) and many Idahoans have bought into the phony argument that the lottery is a simpler way for the state to help meet its fundamental responsibility to adequately fund k-12 and college education.

Instead of stepping up to the responsibility to fund adequately public education and decently pay teachers by allocating more sales tax funds when necessary, Republicans have led the way in granting numerous exemptions from the sales tax which has of course necessitated the development of gimmicks like supplementing education through allocation of some of the lottery take.

The logical action of removing some of the gazillion exemptions granted over the years, however, is viewed as “increasing taxes” and with Idaho having a progressive income tax that means everyone would have to pay something and we can’t have that can we?

Or the logical action of expanding but still staying within sustained-yield the timber cut off of state lands. Proceeds from these sales go directly to the general fund to support public education. In Fiscal Year 2010 it generated $46 million for public schools and in FY 2011 it generated $53 million. Over the last 50 years it has generated over a billion dollars for public schools. Doesn’t that seem like a safer bet?

Bottom line is the lottery is not a painless gift to the people of Idaho. It is a false promise built on the misery of others and it is part of the myth-making Governor Otter and others make that they are prudent, anti-tax, budget balancing fiscally responsible folks. The facts say something very different as will history.

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