Idaho politics: Plus Two, Minus Two–We could do better

by Judy Ferro

Now that pundits have passed judgment on the Idaho legislature, it’s a good time to see if we can learn from other states’ experiences.

Kansas legislators may have set this year’s record for hubris. Lawmakers there considered a bill that would make it an impeachable offense for state Supreme Court justices—and other state officials—to “defy” the legislature.

Of course, they had reason: in March the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that years of budget cuts had left schools “inequitably funded” and ordered that K-12 schools not open next fall unless the legislature remedied the situation. Legislators did buckle down and adopt a formula they claim funds the schools more fairly; critics, however, claim it makes matters worse by funneling money to districts most able to support local levies.

This is just the latest drama resulting from the huge income tax cuts that Gov. Sam Brownback championed in 2013. Exempting 330,000 farmers and businessmen from state income taxes was supposed to boost the economy so fast that the state’s revenue would not be cut. Instead, the deficits went from $344 million the first year to a predicted $800 million this year.

So now Brownback is claiming that his tax cuts worked but proposing increasing the sales tax to 6.65 percent, the cigarette tax to $1.29 a pack, and business taxes by an overall $24 million.

Louisiana is in worst shape. Tax cuts enacted when Bobby Jindal was governor will leave the state about $1 billion short this fiscal year and a predicted $2 billion next.

Idahoans have to appreciate that this year, at least, our legislature chose to fund schools rather than give the rich more tax cuts.

And, although our legislature forbade local governments from passing legislation banning plastic bags and regulating oil exploration, it did not overthrow the ordinances of cities that ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity. North Carolina did and is feeling the fallout.

Just weeks ago Gov. Pat McCrory stated that he didn’t know of a business that had a stand one way or the other on gay rights. Now he has heard from 120 CEOs and businesses opposing the law. Pay-pal has cancelled plans for a facility that was to employ 500 people. A television pilot is filming in Canada instead; the NCAA is under pressure to leave the state; and lawsuits have been filed.

So Idaho has twice dodged bullets by not jumping on the far-right bandwagon. Unfortunately, it continues to shot itself in the foot by rejecting Medicaid expansion and a minimum wage increase.

A recent Colorado study has indicated positive results from Medicaid expansion far greater than predicted. Estimates are that expanding healthcare created 31,074 new jobs and added $3.8 billion in economic activity. It’s hard to compare Colorado with Idaho—its population is three times and its economic production four times as high as ours. Still, it is impressive growth and Idaho needs it.

And the evidence continues to grow that raising the minimum wage boosts a state’s economy. Job growth in Washington, Oregon, and California continues to outpace ours. Opponents of an increase cite anecdotes (my boss laid off people when the minimum wage increased) and cherry-pick statistics (employment for urban dwellers between the ages of 16-19 went down), but study after study indicates incremental increases in minimum wage boost an economy.

The Republican propaganda machine is wrong. Democratic policies benefit the middle class and lead to healthy economic growth.

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