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On a roll

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In case you missed it recently, Idaho’s unemployment rate has dropped to 3.0 percent, close to half that of the national economy. And that’s on top of a state revenue report projecting another year of budget surplus, over $800 million. (DFM, 6/21)

Gov. Brad Little hailed the revenue figure and said he would ask the Legislature to pass another round of income tax reductions when it convenes in January, as well as further investment in education. (IdahoPress, 6/9). Those are solid moves and represent basic conservative principles of fiscally responsibly tax measures, and investment in education, both spelled out in Idaho’s Constitution.

Both are positive developments as the budget year ends this week and should help “seal the deal” with primary voters next spring, choosing Little’s pro-Idaho prosperity and growth over challenger Janice McGeachin’s shrill “drain the swamp” rhetoric of nullification and gun-toting Bible thumping. People will put up with charlatans just so long and McGeachin has already proven to be the worst Idaho lieutenant governor in many decades, maybe ever.

By contrast, Little’s measured, steady hand is one reason Idaho is in the top group in virtually every category of growth, economic development, entrepreneurship, personal freedom and overall quality of life. Here are some of the recent numbers:

The 11-month revenue figures show an Idaho economy recovering from the COVID pandemic in better shape than most other states. Of the revenue sources, income withholdings, sales tax receipts and corporate taxes all jumped higher year-over-year. Income taxes went from $1.425b to $2.300b; sales tax collections from $1.538b to $1.812b, and corporate tax payments from $177m to $293m. Note this last item on corporate taxes, showing a $166m increase in corporate income taxes paid, over 65 percent higher; so much for the liberals’ argument that Idaho businesses are shirking taxes.

In comments June 9, Little correctly identified how Idaho’s rosy economic picture has come about. “Years of fiscal conservatism, swift action during the pandemic, few COVID restrictions, responsible allocation of federal relief dollars, and our relentless focus on cutting red tape are the reasons Idaho’s economy is catapulting ahead of other states right now,” Little said. (IdahoPress, 6/9).

Little’s budget director, Alex Adams, told state agency directors to prepare budget requests to include 4% merit raises for state employees, the largest pay boost since 2008. In the last 13 years, state employees got zero raises four times, in fiscal years 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014. Idaho state workers get merit-based increases, not run-away automatic raises as in many public employee union states, another example of Idaho’s fiscally responsible policies of public funds.

I chaired the House Commerce & Human Resources Committee from 2012-2018 and frequently reviewed state worker compensation trends and patterns. Idaho is blessed with a high-quality public workforce and in these improving economic times, it seems appropriate to reward them more for their continuous and dedicated work.

“Significant” education investments are also on the governor’s list as the “top priority” for general funds appropriations. The details aren’t out yet, but Little did well in the current year’s budget, restoring holdbacks and continuing teacher pay enhancements. Idaho’s commitment to public education is enshrined in the state constitution, and will remain, despite the so-called Freedom Foundation’s goal of eliminating public schools and slashing universities. On the budget writing committee, JFAC, the only “no” votes were from Reps. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg and Priscilla Giddings, White Bird, both arch-opponents of public education.

Rightists, led by McGeachin and the Freedom Foundation, may wish it wasn’t so, but a new budget will keep Idaho apace with state overall and student population growth. We’re not going back to the “outhouse” days which she and others seem to glamourize.

In another snapshot, the Idaho Department of Labor showed the non-farm work force at 874,000, an increase of 8.1 percent from 2020. Idahoans have been steadily returning to work as the pandemic fades and business expansion takes hold. “Help Wanted” signs are up all across the state; labor shortages are being reported in many industries and “job jumping” is returning as employers boost wages and benefits to attract and hold employees.

The Magic Valley unemployment rate dropped to 3.2 percent, and overall non-farm employment passed its pre-pandemic level, adding some 1,300 jobs to the local labor market. The Southeast Idaho region also had a 3.0 percent unemployment rate and showed a jump in its workforce, from 85,000 to over 88,000. (Dept of Labor, 6/21)

And then there’s the underlying population increase; Idaho added more than 265,000 residents in the past ten years census, many of them from places that have witnessed deteriorating quality of life. Here, those arrivals find work, opportunity, futures for themselves and their families. They look around and except for the shrill babblings from the rightists, things seem pretty darn good in Idaho on the leadership front. That’s the Idaho way.

Stephen Hartgen, Twin Falls, is a retired five-term Republican member of the Idaho House of Representatives, where he served as chairman of the Commerce & Human Resources Committee.  Previously, he was editor and publisher of The Times-News (1982-2005). He can be reached at Stephen_Hartgen@hotmail.com
 

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