Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published in “Schmidt”

Idaho’s economy to come

schmidt

As EORAC (The Economic Outlook and Revenue Assessment Joint legislative Committee) starts it’s meeting for this year, I am reminded of a comment by a fellow member a few years back.

EORAC is tasked with recommending a revenue projection to JFAC so a budget can be set for the coming year. Idaho’s Constitution, like many states, mandates that government may spend no more each year than it takes in. Idaho tax revenue is of course mainly dependent on sales tax and income tax. Property taxes (also about a third of the Idaho tax burden) mainly go to local governments. Income and consumer activity is quite dependent on the economic climate, so the committee listens to many experts discuss their weather predictions for the coming year.

When we heard from Idaho Department of Labor in 2014, House Speaker Scott Bedke seemed surprised by Idaho low wages. At that time Idaho had the highest percent of minimum wage earners (now we are 49th), and the lowest average wage in the country (still 50th). The Speaker asked that the numbers be repeated to the legislators for emphasis and suggested we consider our policy actions to address this. He’s right; our state leaders should understand this predicament.

But it’s not news. This has been a long time coming.

This paper provides a good analysis of each sector. Interestingly, when I have had this discussion with Republicans who will talk to me about this, they point to 1980’s as when environmental pressures hurt logging and mining. But those Idaho jobs actually pay above the national average and have for the last 30 years. Health care workers have driven this decline the most; their pay has lagged and the sector has grown.

So why hasn’t the market solved this for us? You’d think businesses would want to come to a place where the workers get paid less, then as demand for workers increases, the pay would also. Idaho has had some ups and downs, but overall the 30 year trend is swirling the drain. State Impact Idaho tried to get people’s attention about this issue 4 years ago. They did a great job, but it sure didn’t fire up any voter outrage.

The consequences we see of this trend are that bright young folks are leaving the state for better employment opportunities elsewhere and older, gray haired, fixed income folks are coming in to take advantage of the low pay. Such a demographic change will have a long influence on the economy, and the politics.

A further consequence, since we started talking about revenue, is that since people make less, the state collects less revenue to pay for schools and other services. If incomes rose, we could actually lower the tax rate and still get enough revenue to do the work the state should be doing.

So what should policy makers do? First, I would wonder if any see this as a problem. My sense was that Speaker Bedke did, but I sure didn’t hear others join him. When I can get Republicans to talk about this they usually deflect the low wages to a comparably low cost of living in Idaho.

But they are wrong again. Idaho’s cost of living is about 30th nationally, while wages are 50th.

I have heard one lawmaker dismiss low wages as a problem. He also considered the goal of economic growth, especially for rural areas a mistake. “People like things the way they are; otherwise they wouldn’t be livin’ here. Why try to change things?”

As I sit in the distant back seat and watch EORAC hear testimony about Idaho’s economic forecast, I wonder who’s speaking up for the workers in Idaho? Do they have a seat on this bus?

Loyalty in excess

schmidt

Loyalty is a fine quality, but in excess it fills political graveyards. - Neil Kinnock

It has been encouraging to get all the emails, texts, condolence cards, and even phone calls after my election loss. There have been many hands on my shoulder as I'm out at holiday events, "So sorry you lost." I'm sure my opponent got as many congratulatory ones, at least I hope he did. It was also something to ponder that I got so many messages (email, texts, letters and phone calls) from majority party legislators, active and retired, expressing disappointment in my loss. But at the same time the majority party spent so much effort to unseat me. Indeed, my Senate colleagues contributed significantly to my opponent.

I was not surprised; they always have, though not always as much. It didn't hurt so much before because I won, though honestly, I never won by much. My margin has never been more than 800 votes, close to one percent. This is a swing district (There are only three of the 35 legislative districts in this state with a delegation that isn’t all one party.) and that's where the parties in this unbalanced state play the game. I am trying to understand the meaning of party loyalty for those of us who have been elected as opposed to our supposed goal of working for the common good. Let me know if this is whining; I hate whining.

The above donation is just from my Senate Republican colleagues. All told, the Republican party  and seated legislators directly contributed over 20% of my opponents fundraising, not including the independent money (?$10,000) they spent. That's no small effort. One retired Republican legislator told me, "Dan, they just have so much money and there are so few contested races, and so few swing districts, they have to spend it somewhere." Such doesn’t seem a conservative value, does it?

I can remember a neighbor down on Wildhorse River that told me “the only good coyote was a dead coyote”. He raised sheep, so I understood his sentiment. I imagine the Republican Party in Idaho might say the same about Idaho Democrats. And indeed, Idaho Democrats may have the reciprocal view. Does this partisanship serve our state?

One could discount the public and private sentiments expressed by my colleagues as just polite condolence, not heart felt. One North Idaho legislator actually argued with me when I said the legislature will do just fine without me. He said he respectfully disagreed; he thought my contribution was going to be sorely missed. I politely did not confront him with this, from his local Republican committee:

So I'm wondering, maybe they did not really consider me worth keeping around, despite their words. Instead the value of having a Republican, any Republican (no matter the character or skills or politics) was worth getting rid of me. That makes me feel pretty special, like Wile E Coyote was special to the Roadrunner. But it sure brings out the cynicism.

If I were to go this route, that is, to decide their words were not genuine, just polite pandering like cocktail party compliments, then the work I did for six years to build relationships and integrity in the legislature is not worth dry spit. And such effort isn't worth any time for those involved in the legislative process. I find such a bitter conclusion abhorrent, but possible, given the reality of our current political landscape, both in the state Capitol, and maybe in the populace in general. Should we all just play the partisan game, winning and losing? I am guilty of wanting more from all of us.

We could cynically say: it's just politics. And the party brand is how politics is played: my guy wins, your guy loses. Even more insidious, my Republican colleagues could be trying to distance themselves from the actions of their party. That is, their party makes decisions they would not on their own. So then why are we affiliated? If you look carefully at the beautiful Idaho Capitol, you will find Majority Party and Minority Party caucus rooms build into the structure on opposite sides of the chambers. Was this just a reflection of an historical assumption? Or does this partisan duality serve our state?

I’m working on these answers. Let me know what you think.

(photo/Debra Schmidt)