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Posts tagged as “Idaho”

Hard times, all over

Member of Congress - not all, but most - tend to be more insulated than most of us from economic downturns, but that's a little less true at the state legislative level. State legislators (in the Northwest's states, as in most others) are part-time positions, and those not retired or relatively wealthy have to deal with the same economy as the rest of us.

A useful piece in the Boise Weekly points out some of the Idaho legislators who are hitting scrambling times outside the session.

House Majority Caucus Chair Ken Roberts, R-McCall, is quoted, "I'm looking for jobs and doing my taxes," and the report adds, "Roberts owns a construction and excavation business in Valley County, where construction has come to a near standstill. His wife works four days a week at a pancake house in McCall." Had a little intake of breath when we saw the phrase "construction and excavation business in Valley County" - that may be as good a locus of a rough business climate as any in the Northwest right now.

An immigration sweet spot?

The subject of illegal immigration, subsumed to a degree by the current economic crunch, is bound to rebound - it almost always does in tough times. If it turns into a hot topic that, say, the Obama Administration might want to put away with some efficiency, the search may be on for a political "sweet spot", a point in the debate where some realistic solution (or something close to it) might be found, a place that satisfies no one on the extremes but might find some broad acceptance.

Something like what a group of Idaho business people are suggesting. Wouldn't that be a mind-blower: The Obama Administration drawing from such a source? And yet, as policy, it might be a pretty good fit.

Brent Olmstead of the Idaho Business Coalition for Immigration Reform had this to say in a guest opinion in the Idaho Statesman:

Amnesty unfairly rewards those who broke our laws, and mass deportation is unrealistic. Current enforcement policy is centered on undocumented workers who are contributing to our economy. The enforcement priority should target those engaged in criminal activities.

That is why we support a sensible guest worker program that takes undocumented workers off the black market and legitimizes their economic contributions without providing an expedited pathway towards citizenship status. This type of a program in conjunction with increased enforcement at the border will more readily allow the government to know who is entering our country.

A guest worker program that provides foreign workers with a worker ID removes the incentive for millions of people to illegally enter our country. It adds workers to our tax base, generates revenue for needed social services and it satisfies the need that employers have for a reliable labor pool.

Those who are here illegally and want to stay should be assessed a fine, pay any owed back-taxes and submit to and pass a criminal background check. When all of that is completed the individual should be given a renewable work permit that is valid as long as the individual stays employed.

Absolutists on one side or the other won't much like it. But it jumps past the key problems with the absolute answers, from basic practicality to making a joke out of our legal system, to having some realistic control of our borders and a sense of who is and isn't within them. This may be an idea worth some more thought.

Sali II: The return?

Bill Sali

Bill Sali

There's probably a sense among a lot of organization Republicans in Idaho that the state's congressional delegation would be all-Republican again this year were it not for the Republican House member who lost his seat two years ago - Bill Sali. After all, the other two Republicans running for Congress in Idaho last year, Jim Risch and Mike Simpson, won their seats with great big margins. A Republican running in the first district who was closer to their model than the highly controversial Sali, they might reasonably figure, would have won. As it was, Democrat Walt Minnick narrowly won the seat, and doesn't seemed to have made any political mistakes so far.

With Sali's filing for another run at the seat, all this becomes pertinent fodder again.

Often, a candidate for a major office who either is ousted from it or only narrowly loses it will at least win his party's nomination for another run, if he (or she) wants it. In the two other House seats seriously contested in the Northwest last year, in Washington's 8th and Oregon's 5th, the outside party (Democratic and Republican respectively) each nominated for another go their candidate from 2006; both, it might be noted, lost. In the run for Washington governor last year, Republican Dino Rossi - who just barely lost in 2004 - had the Republican nomination for the asking; and he proceeded to lose as well.

But could Sali get the nomination? You can't rule it out. He has a known name and organized support. But he also has a big campaign debt (about $120,000 at last count), and several prospectively solid Republican candidates (Attorney General Lawrence Wasden and state Senator John McGee have expressed interest) could in the field. Sali won in 2006 in a deeply fragmented field that advantaged him almost perfectly. There'd be strong pressure in the Republican hierarchy to avoid a repeat of that scenario.

He would at least, though, have the opportunity to get a lot of that debt paid off . . .

NOTE: Edited to correct reference to Mike Simpson, from Crapo.

UPDATE: Sali is quoted as saying that he hasn't actually decided yet whether he will run. That's worth bearing in mind; the filing of paperwork is prerequisite, but not the same thing as a declaration of candidacy. He also says his campaign debt is all the way down to $117,000.

ID: One of the last five?

We'd say this overstates the case - in a good many states, there are lots of self-described Democrats who vote mostly Republican. And it seems to misstate the case in the South and in parts of Appalachia.

Gallup map

Still, you now have the pollster Gallup concluding that just four states (Idaho, plus Utah, Wyoming and Alaska) are "solid Republican" states, and just one more (Nebraska, which gave up one electoral vote last year to Barack Obama) as "leans" Republican. (The actual ranking for Republican-ness is, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Alaska, Nebraska, Kansas and Alabama.)

Washington and Oregon, as you might thereby expect, are listed as "solid Democratic."

Stimuli in the states

So what are the prospects for states - the three in the Northwest, specifically - to get from the current iteration of the federal stimulus package?

The Center for American Progress has put together some general information. It's limited in details, but some of the interactive maps do provide some useful material.

Overall, Oregon seems to make out marginally the best. But results vary . . .

bullet Oregon - total $6.3 billion. Of that, 11.9% goes for balancing the state budget, the rest for specific programs and tax cuts. Tax cuts overall: $2 billion (or $529 per person), $1.8 billion for Make Work Pay tax cuts, $50.7 million for EITC increases, $153 m for child tax credits. Spending for unemployment, homelessness, poverty - $1.3 billion ($330 per capita), $835 million for those who lost jobs, $75 million for housing, $312 million for food stamps, $30 million for miscelleneous poverty efforts.

bullet Washington - total $10.4 billion. Of that, 12.8% for balancing state budget, the rest for specific programs and tax cuts. Tax cuts overall: $3.6 billion (or $550 per person), $3.2 billion for Make Work Pay tax cuts, $85.8 million for EITC increases, $288 m for child tax credits. For unemployment, homelessness, poverty - $1.5 billion ($232 per capita), $935 million for those who lost jobs, $135 million for housing, $398 million for food stamps, $49 million for miscellaneous poverty efforts.

bulletIdaho - total $2.5 billion. Of that, 13.3% for balancing state budget, the rest for specific programs, tax cuts. Tax cuts overall: about $900 million (or $566 per person), $.8 billion for Make Work Pay tax cuts, $23.9 million for EITC increases, $79.4 m for child tax credits. For unemployment, homelessness, poverty - $312 million ($205 per capita), $198 million for those who lost jobs, $34 million for housing, $66 million for food stamps, $14 million for miscelleneous poverty efforts.

New thinking?

Wayne Hoffman, the unusually high-profile spokesman for former Representative Bill Sali, has launched a new effort, the Idaho Freedom Foundation, self-described as "the state’s only think tank dedicated to finding free-market solutions to the challenges facing our state."

Remarkably, it may more or less be, if you parse carefully. There's been a long string of pro-free market think tanks (bear in mind, that's a term of art) in Idaho over the years. Former Idahoan Laird Maxwell contributed a bunch all by himself (Idahoans for Tax Reform, This House is My Home, among other efforts). More currently, there's even the Free Market Duck, although you may have some difficulty describing exactly what that is. There are also no lack of organizations from outside the state with national outreach including the Free Market Foundation of Plano, Texas, "dedicated to protecting freedoms and strengthening families in Texas and nationwide."

Ever since the days (amounting to four decades now) when Ralph Smeed and Steve Symms co-founded the Idaho Compass at Caldwell, and pushed for a chair of capitalism at the University of Idaho, the state has not lacked for free-market advocates and organizations - there's been quite a crowd of them over the years. If those had consisted only of legislators, that would still be quite a crowd.

A question keeps arising about many of these efforts, though. All or nearly all refer to "free market solutions" to whatever ails you - an established determination. So: If you already know the answer to whatever question may be asked, how much thinking do you really have to do?

We'll credit Hoffman with taking as his initial shot a run at pushing for transparency in government: "In Texas, the state spent $300,000 developing a transparency Web site, and Comptroller Susan Combs believes the program has saved millions of dollars. Among other things, the effort brought to light unnecessary duplication in contracts and produced cheaper ways of meeting government goals. In Idaho, I would imagine that a transparency project could have prevented some agencies from loading up on equipment, bonuses and travel in a mad dash to spend year-end cash, as I witnessed over and over, even in lean years."

The point and the approach of really transparent government are clearly worthy, though the implementation is neither automatic or simple. To get it done and done right, it may even take a fair amount of actual thought.

Afterthought: By way of transparency, who are the IFF's benefactors?

Kempthorne for president?

Dirk Kempthorne

Dirk Kempthorne

Don't count on this one happening. But in some ways there's not a shock in seeing it - the notion being floated about Dirk Kempthorne, former interior secretary and former Idaho governor and senator, running for president in 2012. (To be clear, there's no specific indication that any of this has come from Kempthorne himself.)

A few thoughts . . .

One is that having such trial balloons floated isn't an especially bad idea, even if you never follow up on them. The idea that you might become a real national figure, in the top=rank way that presidential contenders and few others are, gives you heft and prominence in whatever you're doing right now, whether that is serving in Congress, as governor of Alaska or even if you're in the process of nailing down ongoing employment.

Another is that there's some reflection here of the thinness of the national Republican bench. Looking to 2012 there are such names as Romney and Palin and Huckabee, but their actual campaign history in 2008 exposed serious weaknesses for all of them, and many Republicans may be looking elsewhere. But where? Going back decades, there's always been at least one and maybe more plausible major figures for Republicans headed into the presidential cycle; who would that be now? Lesser-known figures might realistically enter seriously into the mix.

Third: Kempthorne? interior secretary is a national post, but he's hardly a household name, and connections to the Bush Administration may be politically toxic for a while. He's been a down-the-line standard conservative, as the term has been understood in recent years; but how is that likely to help in 2012? He does have good campaigning skills, though, and as the Atlantic's Marc Ambinder points out, he is close to the natural resource industries, which could help fund the early stages of a campaign.

Would he try to do it? Not likely. The Idaho Statesman's Kevin Richert noted that "He has never said that to me and in recent talks with his associates no one made any suggestions that he was looking at it." This is probably a trial balloon being lofted for other purposes. But then, that's partly what trial balloons are for.

A tax review?

Last May Stan Howland, a veteran corporate income tax auditor for Idaho Tax Commission, delivered a startling 17-page report on what he argued was an inappropriate activity at the commission: Making secret (as in not disclosed to the public) deals with out of stat corporations that allow them to pay to the state a fraction of the taxes they owe. The argument in favor of this approach is that the legal action needed to collect the taxes might, at least in some cases, exceed what could be collected.

The report caused a flurry of discussion, most of which seemed to lead to three conclusions: (1) the activity he describes does in fact go on; (2) it appears to be legal; and (3) nothing more seemed likely to come of it, since the commission is arguing it is doing the right thing, and no one else in a position to impose their clout seems interested in forcing them to do otherwise.

But is the current economic crunch, alongside the crunch in state revenues, leading to a reconsideration of that outcome?

The subject came up Thursday at the state Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee, and the upshot didn't look so good for the commission. From the Idaho Statesman's Kevin Richert blog post on the meeting: (more…)

Dairy downer

Jeff Kropf

Barely noticed outside the industry, but of some real import to various places around the Northwest, especially southern and southwest Idaho: Prices for dairy products are dropping, fast.

A notable piece in the Twin Falls Times News said, "Dairy prices are about $7 below the break-even point needed for dairymen to pay operating costs - that means that the industry, in large part, is looking to bank loans to stay in operation. 'This is as bad as we have ever seen it,' said Rick Naerebout, an industry representative with Independent Milk Producers. 'But what makes it worse is the uncertainty that's ahead.' Dairymen across the United States are feeling the pinch as demand for milk and other dairy products decline in both foreign and domestic markets."

More specifically, to take one key example: "Milk prices peaked at $20.25 in June 2008, before dropping to $11.12 - not including protein and other solids. Dairymen need about $13.00 per hundredweight to break even with current feed prices and other operating costs."

Factor that into regional economics, especially considering that dairy has been the biggest ag growth area in the region in recent years.