When I was growing up in the Republican party, I learned the lesson of responsible fiscal policy by heart – government must live within its means. That did not mean government could refuse or neglect to perform services or fund programs that were required by the constitution because Republicans were not law breakers. And, we believed the law required the funding of programs necessary for public safety unless there was a serious financial crisis at hand.
The three candidates seeking the Republican nomination for governor seem to have forgotten that critical government programs can’t be provided if they are not funded. All three of them praise the state tax cut recently enacted into law, while calling for additional tax relief and reduced spending. There is little explanation of how this can be accomplished without ignoring the laws of this good State.
Mr. Labrador has fixated on the number 5, calling for a 5% across-the-board reduction in the budget of every State agency (unless an agency can prove it needs more), along with cutting income and sales taxes to 5%. Dr. Ahlquist pledges to cut government spending by $100 million within 100 days of taking office, while also cutting taxes. Brad Little is calling for tax and spending cuts.
It is not as if the Legislature has been throwing money around like an intoxicated person. Since the 2008 recession, state agency budgets have been cinched tight, squeezing out existing fat. There may be a few wasteful dollars here and there, but not nearly enough to allow massive tax and spending cuts.
As a matter of fact, the State has failed to carry out its constitutional responsibility to provide adequate funding for a number of programs. The most glaring example relates to Article 9, section 1 of the Idaho Constitution, which requires the State to provide a thorough system of public schools. The Idaho Supreme Court has held on several occasions that the State is shirking this constitutional obligation. The Legislature has increased funding for school budgets in recent years, but admits it is still violating the law. Aside from operational funds, the State of Idaho is also obligated to provide substantial funding for school facilities–the bricks and mortar–so that Idaho kids have an atmosphere conducive to learning. That doesn’t happen in dilapidated school buildings.
The State is also constitutionally required to provide an adequate system for the defense of indigent criminal defendants. It is no secret that Idaho is not meeting its responsibility in that regard. Some progress has been made in the last year but the State still has a long way to go to meet its constitutional responsibility.
Many of Idaho’s roads and bridges are dangerous and in serious need of repair. We have committed future revenues to do some of this work through issuance of GARVEE bonds, but that simply is nowhere near enough to do the job. Public safety is at risk.
At some point we need to realize that taxation is not a dirty word. Rather, it is a critical ingredient of constitutional government. State government must provide lawfully-mandated programs and services, which includes raising sufficient revenue to pay for them. Responsible candidates for offices of public trust do not promise to do what they should know is impossible. If candidates contend they can fulfill their lawful responsibilities while continually whacking away at revenues, they should explain exactly how that can be accomplished.