There is a major mismatch between Idaho voters and the representatives they elect.
Medicaid expansion is a prime example. For seven years our legislators refused to consider it, then the people voted for it by 60%, and the majority of legislators set out to limit who would be covered. If that wasn’t enough, many complained that voters were uninformed (i.e. ignorant) and lectured us on how representatives were to vote according to their judgment, not ours.
We can find other examples by comparing legislative actions with polling results released last January in Boise State University’s 5th annual Idaho Public Policy Survey.
For instance, a total of 80% of those surveyed felt that requiring signatures from 6% of the registered voters in 18 of the state’s 35 districts before placing initiatives on a ballot was about right or too difficult.
Yet, during the 2019 legislative session almost 70% of the legislators voted to make passing an initiative significantly more difficult. Every Canyon County legislator voted for requiring a higher percent gathered in more districts in fewer days. Only Gov. Brad Little’s veto protected Idahoans’ rights to initiate laws.
Our representatives wanted to make it next to impossible for their constituents to take direct action on issues they refused to address.
The Policy Survey by BSU also found that over 61% of those surveyed felt that residents should be able to vote on whether a city or county levies a local sales tax for needed improvements.
Idaho counties and cities rely heavily on property taxes for their revenue. For decades they’ve looked to local option sales taxes as a means to diversify funding sources and to make possible projects that the state doesn’t regard as priorities.
Idaho law does allow resort cities with populations of less than 10,000 to pass a local sales tax and auditorium districts to pass a local hotel tax. From 2003-2009 the state did allow a half-cent sales tax for building a jail if 2/3rds of the voters approved. But even that option is no longer available for Idaho cities and counties.
Overall, however, Idaho legislators are denying voters the right to decide.
The Policy Survey also indicates that voters regard adequately funding schools as more important than cutting taxes.
Even without the survey, that’s obvious. Voters have approved over $200 million to fund annual supplemental levies for school districts in spite of the fact that property taxes are generally the most hated. The amounts paid from year to year are easily compared, and they continue to increase without regard for anyone’s ability to pay.
Yet in 2019, when anticipating increased revenue from a sales tax on online sales to Idahoans, a majority of our legislators voted to limit the revenue’s use to reducing taxes. They didn’t consider funding schools, much less roads and bridges, prisons or law enforcement.
And many felt free to grumble about voters thrusting the expenses for Medicaid expansion upon the state while placing this new source of revenue off limits. (Yet, this year the legislature also gave short shrift to any cuts in property taxes.)
Forty-nine states and the District of Columbia all invest more per student than Idaho does. According to WalletHub, only 13 states take a lower percent of personal income in taxes than Idaho does.
Idaho is 51st in education funding and 14th in lowest taxes.
Please consider if your legislators share your priorities before casting your vote this fall. The Idaho Press will distribute candidates’ answers to its survey on Sunday, Oct. 18.