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State of the state

schmidt

When Governor Little addresses the legislature Jan 7th with his budget address he’ll be hard pressed to beat Butch Otter’s charm or delivery. I hope he feels no pressure to. But Brad will have a chance to strike a new pose.

The speech is required in the Idaho Constitution at the beginning of each legislative session and the governor must describe “the condition of the state, and shall recommend such measures as he shall deem expedient”.

Further he shall, “present estimates of the amount of money required to be raised by taxation for all purposes of the state”.

I’ve been hearing Brad stake out a direction, both in his campaign and since the election that should tell us where he is heading next week. He has said clearly that Idaho needs to be a great place for his (and my) kids to settle and make a good living to raise our grandkids. Maybe they’ll be willing to care for us as we begin to dodder. But right now, these 20-30 somethings are the hard-working plodders that drive strong community growth. We need them, if we are to prosper.

Idaho is one of the fastest growing states in the union, but unfortunately, we are attracting dodderers, not plodders.

What do young families look for when they strike out? Safe, solid communities with good schools and good jobs would be my bet. Will Brad propose increased funding for K-12? How about fully funding kindergarten?

Idaho currently provides funding for ½ day kindergarten, but districts are not required to provide it. Many districts provide full day kindergarten, some even provide preschool, but they support it with local levies. The Idaho School Board Association asked the state to fund this in a resolution this year. Lots of evidence supports early education as a wise government investment, but Idaho struggles with investments. This would be a big leap for Governor Little.

And what can the Governor do about good paying jobs? Even if he went off the deep end and endorsed raising Idaho’s minimum wage, we aren’t really talking about attracting minimum wage workers. But the governor could make a strong statement about wages by trying to make state employee salaries competitive.

Maybe, instead of pushing salaries, he could suggest a “housing allowance” for state workers commensurate with his own. Idaho’s governor gets $138K a year (39th nationally, while Idaho wage earners are 50th) and another $55K for housing or a boost of about 40%. I would bet state workers would be happy with a 5% boost in salary and no housing allowance, but Brad does seem like a fair guy.

I’ll bet he goes for cutting the grocery tax, which has broad support. Idahoans now pay sales tax on groceries; this adds about $200M to state revenue. About $26M of that goes to local governments. But taxpayers get back a grocery tax credit to the tune of about $150M. Eliminating the grocery tax would cost the state general fund about $80M.

So, you can see Governor Little has some real numbers to play with. And the numbers count. Add into all this the uncertainty of the tax revenue, since Idaho’s tax collections since July have been well below projections. Most are writing this off to bad tax estimates offered to employers as the federal and state tax cuts came through together; the expectation is that come April, the taxes owed will add up and we will be writing big checks with our returns. But remember the Constitutional requirement of the Governor: “the amount of money required by taxation”.

I hope Brad holds to his vision. Us dodderers need you plodders: make Idaho your home. We should make it worthy.
 

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