“It will take money — not mothballs — in the state treasury to build the Idaho of which we all dream.” — Idaho Governor Robert E. Smylie (R), 1966
There was a time, before the 1990s, when Idaho’s elected officials believed that investment in our community was worthwhile. Well, today, we have a full treasury. Still, some of our state officials are trying to convince us that we can’t afford to adequately fund education and other priorities we have as citizens.
While the announcement that Gov. Little wants to increase education funding by 11% this year is welcome news and a step in the right direction, it’s also essential to understand some context.
First of all, part of the reason we need what feels like such a significant increase is because our Legislature and other officials have been underfunding education for years. As Luke Mayville, with Reclaim Idaho, recently pointed out, spending on K-12 education has been declining as a percentage of our budget since the mid-1990s. In 1965, when we had leaders interested in investing in the people, the Legislature approved a 44% increase to the education budget.
Let that sink in.
By increasing the education budget this year, we’re bringing our per-pupil spending from 55% to 62% of the national average. Back in the day, we spent 74% of the national average on our students.
And it’s not just our education spending. Our elected officials like to pretend that we can’t keep up with infrastructure and reverse the Legislature’s devastating 2016 property tax decision while adequately funding education. They claim this out of one side of their mouths while out of the other side of their mouths they talk about providing a tax cut for the top earners in the state.
For years, tax cuts haven’t even made the top five priorities for the people of Idaho. Yet that’s what our elected officials keep flogging as some sort of measure of “success.” In reality, success would look like access to affordable health care, property tax policies that don’t overburden residential owners, adequately-funded education and upgraded infrastructure.
If our elected officials want to provide true tax reform and relief for more Idahoans, they’d shift from just lowering the top tax rate to broadening the tax brackets. The fact that you’re in the Idaho tax bracket when you make $7,939 as a single filer or $15,878 as a joint filer is ridiculous. Widening the brackets would provide more meaningful relief — especially in a state with such a high proportion of minimum wage workers.
Yes, when you look at the story told by elected officials, it looks rosy. Increases in the education budget. Tax cuts. But they’re spinning the story. Yes, we have an economy that’s working well for people at the top, and the numbers seem impressive. But when you actually look at people struggling with property taxes while working two minimum wage jobs to feed their families, things don’t look so good. It’s time for Idaho’s officials to actually implement policies that help us, rather than just reward themselves or their cronies.
Miranda Marquit, Master of Business Administration, is a nationally recognized financial expert, consultant, writer and speaker. She is the state committeewoman for the Bonneville County Democratic Central Committee.