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Little’s new budget

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Gov. Brad Little gave a preview of some items likely to be included in his proposed budget for next year, and he focused on two areas which have long needed attention in Idaho: childcare and housing.

The governor is not the only one who’s raised these issues in recent months. Business leaders and economic development people have long associated both issues with the need to grow the state economy.

Without childcare, working parents and particularly single moms, can’t afford to enter the workforce or to return to work. And without affordable housing, lower income folks are priced out at ever owning a home, a major step in the development of a viable middle-class.
To some extent both problems will be solved in the private sector. As wages rise, childcare becomes more affordable, but if it’s out of reach, it’s hard to make it work financially.
The childcare industry is a relatively low margin one. Childcare providers struggle to find good help by raising wages, but just as prices rise, more people can no longer afford it. And with wages in Idaho being relatively low, potential workers today can do better in other fields. A continuing labor shortage has thus heightened the issue.

On the housing front, low-income housing, particularly in carefully selected areas, would enhance community downtowns and fill in what are now often vacant lots.

Developers can’t afford to build this low-income housing if they can’t make it work financially. So they focus on higher-end properties, such as single dwelling homes in subdivisions where the margins are better and there are usually fewer restrictions on zoning, etc. That’s an area where local governments can help by reducing or eliminating red tape and superficial zoning restrictions.

Both issues are on the radar county governments, to whom Little outlined his thoughts at the end of September. He didn’t put any numbers out there nor did he prioritize these goals with others. But it was clear from his remarks at the Idaho Association of Counties annual meeting that he wants to give both topics more attention.

Of course, the usual anti-Little naysayers in the House will object to both ideas. Taking their orders from the Idaho Slavery Foundation, they’ll spout the usual we- can’t-do-that line. That’s their line if any idea comes from Little.

When it comes to child care, this group is stuck in the past in which mothers stayed home with their children and didn’t need to work. It’s a picture from the past. As we all know that’s no longer the case.

When it comes to housing, they’ll oppose it too if for no other reason than it’s Little’s and thus will be framed as another government intrusion into what should be private sector decisions in every case. They will not put it quite this way, but what they’re really saying is that people should not have government assistance in these areas. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, a modern version of social Darwinism. Can’t afford housing or pay for child care? Get a better job or don’t have kids.

Oddly, the loudest opponents in the House are a handful of angry, strident women who wrap many issues in so-called “family” terms. Their extremist ideology puts them against a government role in just about everything.

But these malcontents shouldn’t deter Little from raising both issues. The legislature in its budget setting and policy process should give both ideas consideration. They should tell the Slavery Foundation that they shape policy, not the tiny group of noisy, big-money oligarchs from out of state and their candidate puppets.

This of course will require political courage. It’s an election year and no one wants to be thrown into the maw of Wayne Hoffman’s insidious attacks. But it’s time for legislators and the public to send Hoffman and his ilk to the trash heap of Idaho political history.

On childcare, Little said he envisions support for more training for childcare workers in positions that are notoriously hard to fill. One idea he mentioned was to incentivize small businesses to work in small groups to provide quality daycare to attract young people as employees.

Again, he didn’t throw out any specifics. Those will come later as he prepares the states proposed budget for the Legislature in January.

It’s not unusual for governors to float trial balloons ideas in advance of legislative sessions, and that’s what Little is doing here. There have been other attempts to look at both issues and with the state now sitting on a solid economic future and a large surplus, it would seem the time is right to address both childcare and low-income housing.

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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