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A tougher job

Mike Moyle, the new Idaho House speaker, provoked a subject worth considering early in this session when he proposed the legislature change the way it approves, internally, state budgets.

For more than half a century, the process has worked like this: From the beginning of each session, the 10 members of each of the two budget committees - Senate Finance and House Appropriations - convene together nearly every day the legislature is in session. (Together, it is called the Joint Finance Appropriations Committee, or JFAC as Statehouse people usually call it.) It has by far the most physical building space of any committee, and it long has had a substantial year-round professional staff.

At first committee members get budget and revenue overviews, then hear public requests and proposals from state agencies (that’s where they are right now in this session). Then they pause to catch their breath, and start negotiating and voting on the dollar amounts. Those budgets, mostly agency by agency, are sent in bill form to the Senate and House floors - they’re split between them, with first one then the other chamber voting. Usually they pass the bills as written by JFAC and send them on to the governor for signature.

Occasionally there’s a controversy in the process, and JFAC sometimes has been known to rewrite a budget after a floor rejection, but mostly it has for decades worked like a factory process.

Not every state does it this way. Some split the budget-writing between two committees that have little to do with each other (and often then have to negotiate later), or simply divide the voting rather than have a single joint committee do the job at once.

The latter approach seems to be what the speaker is aiming toward. There’s political logic to it: Actually, more rationales than just one. Moyle pointed out, accurately, that in recent sessions House Republicans (the caucus as a whole) have had divided reactions to budget bills coming from the joint committee, and a bill which has pre-approval from a majority of the House members on the committee (since it would be possible for a bill to progress with a majority of the senators but a minority of House members) might have more traction on the House floor.

Of course, that wouldn’t address some of the inevitable discrepancy. The JFAC members, exposed to extensive testimony and detailed budget analysis from staff and other people, simply have deeper grounding in the fine grain of the budget than most other Senate or House members do.

Getting the Senate and House committees to vote separately might do something else too: Weaken JFAC, which usually is considered by far the most powerful legislative committee. The Senate and House members there traditionally work closely together and the budgets they develop are challenged on the floor only uncommonly: Those 20 legislators ordinarily set the terms of state government as much as all the rest put together.

The down side is the complexity of the process. Which side, House or Senate, develops a budget proposal first? If the other side rejects it, what sort of process would they go through to come to an agreement? Eventually, House and Senate committees both still would have to come to terms on numbers. A broken-up vote process would make that much more complex.

It’s not hard to imagine it adding two or three weeks to a legislative session - unless, of course, the members quietly met to hash out behind-closed-doors deals on what would get majority votes on both sides. And considering the many times that quiet negotiations among JFACers have determined important budget bills in the past, you can imagine that as more likely in the future rather than less. A good deal less of the sometimes frustrating work of budget crafting might take place in public.

Of course, as noted, various states use a range of procedures in building their budgets at the legislative level, and none are perfect. In Idaho, after half a century and more of one procedure, there’s nothing wrong with taking a look at alternatives.

As legislators do consider the options, though, they may be wise to consider whether they’re looking at taking a step forward, or back.

 

Just the text, ma’am

As I sat down to write this, a total of 12 House bills and nine Senate bills have been introduced in the Idaho legislature.

As is normal, some of them are housecleaning measures designed to clear up details, errors or obsolete language in state law.

What follows is the statements of purpose, and in a couple cases, clarifying quotes from the bill text, of all of the other pieces of legislation - everything really substantive - introduced so far in 2023. Judge for yourself what they say about the state of Idaho.

House Bill 1 “Ensuring that post-election audits of paper ballots are conducted using a hand count of those paper ballots.” (Rep. Julianne Young)

HB 2 “The new section adds 18-8709 to provide for withholding of sales and use tax revenues from local government entities that issue proclamations, or take similar actions, to defy state law and refuse to investigate or enforce Idaho criminal abortion statutes. Said funds may be released to an offending local government if compliance occurs within a certain time. Should the local government entity not comply, said funds shall be forfeited and deposited in the state general fund.” (Rep. Bruce Skaug)

Senate Bill 1002 ("criminal abortion") This legislation amends Idaho's criminal abortion law, section 18-622, to change the definition of abortion. The key effect is to put the focus on whether a living human child is being killed, and this legislation offers clarity on medical intervention in the case of ectopic pregnancy and other medical situations. (Senators Scott Herndon, Daniel Foreman)

SB 1003 “This legislation amends section 67-2802A regarding segregation requirements for the public works contracts of Idaho's political subdivisions.” (Herndon)

Since that’s unclear, here’s the relevant change in the bill, adding this to state law: "Unless specifically required pursuant to applicable federal law or regulation, a bidder, offeror, contractor, or subcontractor shall not be required to provide access to a multiple-occupancy restroom, a multiple-occupancy shower facility, or a multiple-occupancy changing room on any basis other than biological sex. For purposes of this subsection, ‘biological sex’ means the physical condition of being male or female as stated on a person's birth certificate. A bidder, offeror, contractor, or subcontractor shall have standing to challenge a violation of the provisions of this subsection, and such party shall be awarded costs and attorney's fees in the event that such challenge prevails."

SB1004 “The purpose of this legislation is to enhance Idaho's Castle Doctrine and Stand Your Ground laws. This legislation protects an individual if they merely threaten the use of force in a lawful self-defense situation, and it offers a person who uses lawful force a legal opportunity in the courts to claim self-defense immunity. The legislation also provides opportunities for the recovery of costs in certain prosecutions.” (Herndon)

SB 1005 “This legislation requires licensed daycare facilities to notify parents or guardians of their right to vaccine exemptions anytime the licensed daycare facilities communicate with parents regarding vaccination requirements.” (Herndon)

SB 1006 “... to provide for the enforcement of federal immigration law, and provides procedures for the Idaho Attorney General to seek equitable relief from a government entity found in violation of Title 19, Idaho Code, to include the denial of sales tax distribution funds.” (Foreman)

SB 1007 “This legislation repeals Section 46-802, Idaho Code, that prohibits members of organizations other than the National Guard, unorganized militia, or select other groups from associating and parading in public with firearms. This legislation supports the Second Amendment Rights afforded to Idahoans under the U.S. Constitution.” (Foreman)

SB 1008 “This legislation amends Chapter 33, Title 18, Idaho Code, to prohibit the administrations of public colleges and universities from placing limitations on the possession, carrying, or transporting of concealed weapons or ammunition on campus grounds.” (Foreman)

SB 1009 This section establishes health rights under the law for medical patients, their family members, and legal guardians. (Foreman)

The measure says Idaho governments cannot “Order Idaho residents in general to remain in their homes, close their businesses, social distance, or wear masks or other facial coverings because of an emergency, extreme emergency, or medical emergency,  whether declared or undeclared; or Advertise via any medium, electronic or otherwise, for the recommended public use of any vaccine, drug, or medication classified as experimental by competent medical authority (and related similar language) …. Visitation by a patient's family members or legal guardians shall be allowed unless the patient refuses visitation or visitation is expressly denied by the attending physician for sound medical reasons in the best interest of the patient. General denial of visitation by family members or legal guardians shall not be instituted as a matter of administrative policy.”

Comment on most of this would be superfluous. Or should be.

(image: Legislation by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Pix4free)

 

The campaign against Little

Gov. Brad Little, who by his admission is not known for his great oratory skills, must be feeling good about the quality of his State of the State address that he delivered to kick off this legislative session. In fact, better than normal.

Mind you, there was nothing spectacular about the speech. There were lots of platitudes, and not many specifics on his overall agenda. His speech will be long forgotten as legislators dive into the details and begin looking at other side issues.

The Idaho Freedom Foundation’s Wayne Hoffman wasted no time attacking the speech. “My advice to lawmakers is to ignore everything Gov. Little said. Every last word,” Hoffman said. “This was arguably the worst speech I’ve ever heard an Idaho governor give.”

To Little, that’s a signal that his speech could go down in history as one of the best. If Hoffman had his way, there would be no government funding for public education – and Little was nowhere close to that mark.

The governor’s speech also was panned by the Idaho Freedom Caucus, led by Rep. Heather Scott of Blanchard and Sen. Tammy Nichols of Middleton – two of Hoffman’s best friends in the Legislature. They were “dismayed” with the speech. “What Idaho needs is more Ron DeSantis, less Gavin Newsom.”

Little will treat that criticism, along with their rants on the Legislature’s floors, with the seriousness of a fly on the wall. They will be ignored.

But the governor, perhaps to his delight, received a bonus “rebuke” from another leading Hoffman ally, Idaho Republican Party Chair Dorothy Moon. Her vision appears to be turning the state party from being a cheerleader for Republicans to a policy enforcer.

“While the governor is right to emphasize education as a pathway to economic prosperity, his embrace of teacher’s union policy objectives – including a vast increase in spending without increased accountability metrics – is deeply disappointing,” Moon said. “Our concern is not about being seen to rebuke Idaho’s Republican governor, but rather to stand with the people of Idaho, who have made it clear that they want policies consistent with conservative principle.”

So, this is what we are going to get for the next four years. Little spent most of his first term doing battle, and eventually, ignoring Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin. Now, it appears that Little will spend the next four years at war with the Idaho Republican Party.

We should have seen it coming.

Don’t expect Little to do anything other than brush aside the likes of Moon, Hoffman and McGeachin. To some of the “mainstream” Republicans I talk to, these are the true RINOs – people who claim to be Republicans, but are philosophically closer to the Libertarian Party, or the John Birch Society.

The group has managed to take over the state party and many of the county central committees, but they are a long way of capturing everything. Little easily defeated McGeachin in the last primary election, even though she was endorsed by former President Trump. Debbie Critchfield, Idaho’s new superintendent of public instruction – and a Little ally – defeated the freedom foundation’s golden boy, Branden Durst. Lt. Gov. Scott Bedke, who promised to bring sanity to the office, defeated Rep. Priscilla Giddings, another Libertarian/Republican. Then, there was Phil McGrane taking out Moon in the race for secretary of state.

The state party has a proposed rule change that would allow the state central committee the authority to call Idaho’s U.S. senators, representatives or state officials to a “meeting” about their “conduct.” Penalties could range from a censorship (on the first offense) to barring candidates from using the Republican label for five years.

Good luck with calling Gov. Little on the carpet. He has no reason to care what these RINOs do. If they want to remove him from the party, they might as well boot out Critchfield and Bedke while they’re at it.

Critchfield praised the governor, saying his agenda for education lines up with hers. Bedke has made it clear that he will not turn his office into a right-wing circus when the governor does business out of the state. To Moon’s central committee, those could be grounds for censorship, if not outright expulsion from the GOP.

If you thought that the political campaigns were over, think again. It’s going to be a rocky ride for Little, Critchfield and Bedke over the next four years.

Chuck Malloy is a long-time Idaho journalist and columnist. He may be reached at ctmalloy@outlook.com

Legislative smashup

The Idaho Legislature, back in regular session this last week, is about to be yanked in two radically different directions on one of its core subject areas: education.

That split was apparent in two vivid events on the same day, the first day of the session.

The first event was the state of the state speech by Governor Brad Little, which had a strong standout section aimed at sharply changing the trajectory of Idaho public education.

Following on the big surplus-driven cash infusion from last fall, he proposed a string of funding efforts from scholarships to raising teacher pay and an emphasis on bolstering public schools. “Our commitment to public schools is both our constitutional obligation and it is our moral obligation,” he said. “When I started this job four years ago, Idaho was 41st in the country for starting teacher pay. In four short years, we will have catapulted starting teacher pay in Idaho from the bottom 10 to the top 10. We’re also going to grow the salaries of all teachers, including the most experienced ones, to ensure students have the classroom support they need.” Nor was that all; he outlined support for other aspects of public schools as well.

It was the kind of ambitious push many governors even in blue states would have been happy to give, and Idaho can (with its ongoing strong revenue) readily afford it. Little will have all or nearly all of the education community in the state in his corner as budgets and education policy are set this session.

But will that be enough?

Little’s agenda was, within the world of Idaho Republicans, highly controversial, and a big question arises about just how many votes he will get when bills are proposed in the Idaho Legislature.

You can get a look at what’s coming from a statement shortly after the State of the State from the Idaho Republican chair, Dorothy Moon: “While the Governor is right to emphasize education as a pathway to economic prosperity, his embrace of teacher’s union policy objectives — including a vast increase in spending without increased accountability metrics — is deeply disappointing. Idaho is not Colorado. And yet, the Governor’s vision for the next four years sounded no different than the vision offered by Colorado’s incumbent progressive Democrat governor. These policies do not benefit students. Much like the failed remote schooling policies pursued during the COVID-19 pandemic, the policies that Governor Little is advocating exist to benefit unions, not to educate students. Unsurprisingly, then, the State Legislature’s leading Democrats have all publicly acclaimed the Governor’s address and offered their full support for his agenda.

“Some might dismiss these concerns as an unnecessary rebuke. But our concern is not about being seen to rebuke Idaho’s Republican Governor but rather to stand with the people of Idaho, who have made it clear that they want policies consistent with conservative principle.”

This was the state Republican chair speaking about the Republican governor. (For the historically minded, it brings to mind the period around 1965.)

With that in mind, your attention is drawn to a local school board meeting held about six hours later and 25 miles west of the Statehouse, in Caldwell. The board was considering a new policy on gender and sexual identity, and as will happen these days it drew a shouting crowd.

The pivotal speaker was a new Republican senator from Caldwell, Chris Trakel, who effectively yelled that the proposed policy would damage children and added, "You will face litigation ... You call that a threat, I'm telling you that is what will happen. It's already happened in several states and there's already been rulings on it. So, before you waste taxpayer money, before you put a kid in harm's way, you better throw this policy out."

He knew his audience, apparently: Only the torches and pitchforks were missing.

Don’t think the state budget proposal was necessarily the central story of that opening legislative day, and the Caldwell meeting a sideshow, or that they’re about two different things. They're both about the future of Idaho schools.

Collision is dead ahead.

 

A lot to swallow

Last year, according to the census, Idaho was the second fastest growing state in the nation, its population climbing close to two million, booming ahead faster than any state but Florida.

Idaho loves growth, any and all, the more the better. The powers that be in the state seldom have seen a developer they didn’t like, or at least didn’t want to encourage.

Let’s stipulate: Some growth is almost always a good thing. The next ratchet down, no growth at all, leads to a loss of energy and interest and eventually a depression of both attitude and economics. I’ve seen places stuck in a no-growth mode, and they’re seldom happy. Places in actual decline are worse off.

But unleashed, madhouse booms are rarely helpful either and often worse, and people who live in the west - home to many a boom town back in the day - should know that better than most. (Idaho’s old mining communities present many useful examples.)

Growth in the last couple of decades in the Ada-Canyon area has been stunning, and at times starts to show off the problems of boom town societies, which consist of a growth beyond what an area, and the people in it, can readily absorb. It’s like the diner in a restaurant whose eyes are bigger than their stomach … and winds up with a stomach ache the next day.

Among several cases for concern, take a look at Avimor.

The Avimor development (“not just a subdivision it's a community”) off Highway 55 north of the Boise-Eagle area got its start a couple of decades ago, approved by Ada County regulators. It has been, it should be said, a generally attractive residential development with some commercial activity, located well into the rural foothills on the road to Horseshoe Bend. About 700 houses, where more than 2,000 people (about three times as many as in Horseshoe Bend) live, have been built there.

These would be a tiny slice of the total if plans now roaring ahead come to fruition.

The current plans call for a much more urban development in the area. The Eagle Planning and Zoning Commission is scheduled on January 17 to hear about the Avimor plan to build 8,761 new houses. The estimate is that the total population at Avimore would be more than 22,000, although given the number of houses and changes in residential patterns (increasing numbers of people in houses these days), that seems low.

Since there’s no practical way to manage a concentrated urban area of that scope without city services and administration, the plan is to annex that area to the city of Eagle. The annexation could come close to doubling the size of Eagle, making its population comparable to that of Pocatello or Caldwell.

It was just 30 years ago when Eagle’s population was significantly south of 4,000.

In fairness, too, this proposal was not dreamed overnight. Its general manager said last year that “Avimor has been working with Eagle since 2008, when we spent the time and money to get included in the city’s comprehensive plan.” This has been a long-range effort.

But some people in Eagle are worried about the effects. A story in the Idaho Statesman said, “Many Eagle residents say annexing Avimor into their city would be a mistake, costing existing residents more in taxes for local-government services in the long run than the development would generate in tax revenue.”

Those are fair concerns, and there are many others as well, from the increased traffic on 55 (which sometimes has a hard time with what it already has) to infrastructure pressures.

And it has had significant effects already on the governing of Eagle, as the Statesman also noted: “The fight over annexation was pivotal in the 2019 city election, when Mayor Stan Ridgeway, who opposed annexation, was defeated by Jason Pierce, who received thousands of dollars in campaign donations from the McLeod family, which owns the property, and its developers.”

Given the political imperatives, the development may go through. But like the diner who overate at the restaurant, people in Eagle may wake up the next morning wondering what they did the night before.

(image)

Year after year

As I wrote this I hadn’t yet seen the list of top ten news stories from around the state, which is just as well, since although this is a top ten list that’s not its purpose.

The top news stories inevitably will include, for example - and may be topped by - the student murders at Moscow, which was a big and tragic story. But it says little about the development of Idaho, about the coming year and what Idahoans ought to be paying attention to.

What follows are interrelated items which say something about where we were in the last dozen months and where we may go in the next dozen.

One is the inquiry into the retired Boise police captain, a 24-year veteran, who in November was slated to speak to a national white supremacist group’s meeting. City officials have responded usefully, launching an investigation into how far such attitudes may have penetrated the organization. (It’s hard to believe someone with his job history would have been a complete loner.) But this isn’t about Boise only: What about law enforcement elsewhere around Idaho (and beyond)? Watch for developments.

Look for more followups on the feature story about political real estate. Stories from March focused on real estate operations in the Panhandle marketing to an extremist and survivalist base, employing terms like “American Redoubt,” “Strategic relocation,” and “bunkers – saferooms.” The area is becoming so well known for that atmosphere, and so socially and politically hardened, that you can watch for the appeal to spread across a wide range of businesses and other organizations.

Political extremism, with culture wars at their center, have spread all over. The efforts at book bans in the Nampa School District, which went along, and the Meridian Library District, which has been resisting, are merely partway in their development.

Along those lines, watch closely the demolition of North Idaho College, proceeding rapidly since Kootenai County voters in November returned control of the governing board to an extremist core (supported by the local county Republican Party organization) apparently bent on destroying the place. On that same election day, governing boards at other community colleges around Idaho remained relatively steady, but an attempt at going the NIC route was tried at the College of Western Idaho, and may be tried again there and elsewhere. These governing boards are hardly liberal, but they have been - so far - dedicated to keeping their local institutions afloat and operational. Will they stay so?

Most top-ballot elections in Idaho this year gave wins to mainstream Republicans, but the organizational energy seems to be with the more extreme MAGA-oriented sectors - as indicated by the results of last year’s Republican Party leadership elections, when the hard right swept the field. The Idaho Legislature, which is largely split between the two sides, will be ground zero for that struggle in the first part of the coming year. (Another question: Thanks to the ballot issue passed last year, how many special sessions might we expect this year?)

With that in mind, one of the big stories of last year - the overturning of the national  Roe v. Wade decision - may be a growing point for activism in Idaho in the coming year. Last year, with elections around the corner, a piece of Idaho’s abortion law was stayed, and some anti-abortion activists may have wanted to hold back on taking additional steps in the area. Any hesitation will likely be gone once the legislature hits town.

That arrival may expose something else: The reasons behind the special session of last fall and abrupt infusion of money into public schools. The money may soon be yanked from the schools, but a fight over school funding seems almost inevitable.

Anything essentially non-political in these polarized days? There are some new economic developments, including possible expansion at Micron Technology (along with possible layoffs) and decisions about to be made around the specifics of a data center at Kuna. But I’m watching most the work on cobalt mining at Salmon, where - if trend lines hold - a central part of Idaho could see some big changes before long. If that’s the case, 2023 may be the year it takes hold.

Of course, 2023 may yet launch some fresh new stories of its own.

 

Ever narrower control

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The idea that Republicans are in charge in Idaho is nothing new. That’s the completely consistent history in Idaho ever since the last closely contested Idaho election in 1990.

So when the state’s Republican central committee - the party’s main governing board - acts to limit who can participate in selection of Republican nominees for office, there are two implications: one, that it is limiting who in effect can serve in office (not as a matter of law but of effect), and second, that it is setting narrower and narrower definitions of who is a Republican.

That second implication is moving ever closer to the center of political debate in Idaho, to where a break point may be coming.

The evolving definition of who gets to qualify as a Republican - both generally and for voting purposes - comes out of a couple of concerns expressed by some party activists. One is that people who do not really identify as Republicans (and of course some do specifically identify as Democrats or with some other group) have been participating in Republican primary elections, essentially because that is the only practical expression of their political preferences available to them in Idaho. While such crossover does happen, the numbers are far smaller than many of the party activists have alleged.

The other concern, more subtle but a more sensitive point for the party, is about who or what is a “RINO” - Republican in name only. Since anyone is allowed to join the Republican Party (or any other) - no one can tell you that you can’t - then what does it mean to say that you’re “Republican enough”?

The issue isn’t a new one. Many long-time Republicans in Idaho have been expressing just such concerns for a long time about many of the people now in charge of much of the party’s machinery. But now the people in that machinery - those, for example, excited by the invitation of Representative Marjorie Taylor Green to speak at an upcoming Kootenai Republicans event - are getting serious about trying to oust, or minimize the clout of effectiveness of more mainstream Republicans.

Those mainstreamers seem to be forming a larger and more vocal opposition. You could get a sense of that from the swelling numbers of career-long Republicans who earlier this year broke with the party’s nominee for attorney general and backed the Democratic nominee instead. Do you give up your right to identify or vote as a Republican if you ever support or vote for someone who isn’t? That was never the case traditionally, but the new agitators are pushing that standard.

Blowback at the January state central committee meeting may come partly when it considers whether to adopt a proposal raised at the last state party convention to restrict many people from voting in the Republican primary. One report described the banned as including anyone who is “Affiliated [with the GOP] less than 12 months before the next primary election held in an even-numbered year (so, a voter registering in June 2023 could not vote in the 2024 primary); disaffiliated with the Republican Party at any time in the previous 25 months; financially supported more than one candidate of a different political party for office, or financially supported a different political party, less than 25 months before the primary; affiliated with any other political party less than 25 months before the primary; voted in a primary or caucus for any other political party less than 25 months before the primary.”

You wonder who exactly is going to police all of this - or how to deal with violators. (In case you forgot, we’re talking here about the small-government party.)

Nor is that all. Another newer proposal would drop the Idaho Young Republicans, the College Republicans and the Idaho Republican Women’s Federation from membership on the state party’s executive board. That plan has raised alarms within those groups, which have been key to the party’s strong organization but don’t always align with the more extreme parts of party leadership.

The real question here is, who is still being allowed to participate in Idaho’s government-by-the-people?

Ever-fewer people, apparently.

 

Trying, trying again

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History has its uses, especially when it comes to sales tax exemptions.

The subject has come up for meaningful discussion again this season, and the point here is that, well, we’ve been here before.

That’s not a criticism, just an observation.

The pieces of the argument for the new (actually semi-recurring) proposal seem on their face so obvious that, well, of course it’ll pass.

First there’s the need for more money in a specific area: School building construction and maintenance. This is a matter of demographic mathematics: The number of school children in certain places in Idaho is growing, often dramatically, and there won’t be enough classrooms or schools for all of them, and many of the schools which are there are in need of repair and upgrades. The fix is fiendishly costly. There’s no real debate about any of this.

Earlier this year a state legislative committee was called into session to consider the situation. (A sensible move, since doing some of the preliminary information-gathering and pondering really is best done outside the regular session.) A number of ideas have been floated.

One of the most widely noted of those, proposed by attorney Robert Huntley (a former Supreme Court justice who has been working on the subject of school finance for decades), was described in one article this way: “It would generate around $1.2 billion per year by lowering the sales tax from 6% to 4%, and eliminating a large swath of exemptions from current tax code, according to Huntley. Essentially, the bill would lower the tax rate, but collect the tax against a broader base.”

Probably most Idaho residents would jump on this idea: You mean the sales tax I pay would fall by a third, and school construction and repair also would get the money it needs? What’s not to like? Is there a catch? No, not really, except …

Here’s where the history comes in.

The Idaho sales tax, at a 3% level, was passed by the legislature in 1965 and confirmed by the voters the next year, and right away the push began to exempt various sales from the tax. By the time I started covering the legislature in the seventies a thick, gooey surface of exemptions was already spread over the tax, and that layering was added to as time went on. Now Idaho has a whole library of exemptions and a 6% tax. And yes, it's a math equation: Reduce the number of exemptions and you could cut the tax rate, and still pull in the same amount of revenue. Or more.

The battle to reverse some of those exemptions - which range from widely acceptable to you’ve-got-to-be-kidding - was ongoing back in the seventies, as I can testify, and has cropped up every few years since.

Consider this quote: “In 1988, the Governor's Tax Study Committee expressed its concern about the growth of exemptions whether they were serving a public interest or just providing ‘favors to various special interest groups’. In 2003, that ‘concern’ was again addressed by a legislative task force that scrutinized exemptions. Despite the optimism expressed in several editorials around the state, substantive action did not follow.” That comes from a 2013 column by political scientist Jim Weatherby.

The following year, political writer Chuck Malloy offered: “the odds of winning the lottery probably are better than eliminating the sales tax exemptions. There is a strong constituency for every one of those exemptions. And there are lobbyists lined up to protect all of them. It would be easier to push for increases in the income and sales taxes than ending the exemptions. Eliminating exemptions would be a tax increase on the business world and business operators don’t like higher taxes any more than Republican legislators.”

The year after that, I wrote (in a column) this: “Over the 50 or so legislative sessions since, few have adjourned without some adjustment to the tax, generally by way of exempting someone or something. Lobbyists have kept busy in Boise on that front for decades.”

Is there reason to think 2023 will be any different? The nature of the incoming legislature doesn’t offer much cause.

But a new year is about to dawn, and nothing in politics is eternal; everything is changeable with time. But … even tax exemptions?

 

Take a deep breath

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On November 13, four University of Idaho students were stabbed to death at a residence off campus in Moscow, a rare kind of event for this small college community. As this is written there have been no arrests.

An unsolved murder, especially an unusual one such as this, is always unsettling.

But, a month after the event, time has come for Moscow and the rest of us to take a breather.

In some regional news organizations, ongoing stories about the killings have continued to swamp news coverage, amid few visible developments in the case.

News reports have been in steady stream, such as this one (from Thursday) in the Independent from London (yes, in England): “Eerie new crime scene detail emerges as Moscow police target mystery car.” It’s more raw material for the frightening-murder mill, but at least including new details. How many no-news updates have you seen in the last four weeks? To what extent are they stoking the much-reported fear?

There have been reports of mass participation on social media too; a Reddit conversation was said to have drawn 30,000.

A very long thread on Twitter (the killings have generated multiple hashtags) was launched by a writer who said, “I’m so disgusted by some of the speculation that continues to circulate online about the homicides in Moscow. And I can’t help but notice that many of the rumors are coming from people who don’t live in Idaho and probably couldn’t even point to it on a map. It’s sickening.”

She added, “I’ve spoken with plenty of students who are legitimately scared but I know many of the locals are going about their business as usual. I’m mostly referring to people banging around the Internet from several states away thinking they’re going to crack the case.”

The glomming on of people from far away was mentioned repeatedly. Said one, “A major news organization was saying Iowa a few days ago. The grifting off of this tragedy is getting pretty bad.” Another added, “I have noticed much of the speculation is driven by national media that has weighed in, sometimes with regurgitated information.”

Others described the local reaction a little differently. One said, “Meanwhile out and about in Moscow this morning talking to a lot of friends and did not see any ‘living in fear.’ I didn't even sense that working out at the UI yesterday. This is not a made for TV movie.”

A few others described still other kinds of motivations for the hyperfocus: “This tragedy has inspired soooo many agendas (anti-public ed, anti-higher ed, “blue” community, pro-gun, victim-blaming, conspiracies & worse) from non-locals who don’t gaf about this community.”

Most of whom live far from Latah County, and few of whom even could correctly pronounce the city’s name.

The point of all this is that for now there aren’t many conclusions to be drawn, or even much more to be felt.

The deaths were tragic, and the deceased should be mourned, as they have been. The crime should be solved and the perpetrator (or more than one, as the case may be) should be caught and prosecuted. And while complaints are abundant about that not having happened yet, and about the relative scarcity of information that’s been released, those of us not in the middle of the investigation really have little way of knowing how well law enforcement is or isn’t doing. (Credit due, though, for the willingness to clear people who have been thrown into the rumor circle’s suspect pile.) Eventually, we will be able to evaluate.

For now, we can only wait.

We can do that, and we can refocus a bit. What seems to have happened was a single incident - nothing similar has happened in the region since. Crimes happen, and we should respond when they do. But we have no reason for any larger blanket of fear as so many reports suggest has fallen.

The actual good news there is, judging from social media at least, good evidence that a calmer attitude does seem to be more the norm than not.

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