Opinion: What are our priorities in our communities?


It’s always fascinating to look at where our priorities are. When I run workshops about finances, one of the first things I do is have participants think about their values and priorities.

When I look at Idaho’s budget “surplus,” it’s clear our “leaders” have priorities that include tax breaks for their cronies. After all, we have a governor attempting to claw back $115 million in promised funds for education all while touting this “surplus.” We have a “surplus” that amounts to about 1/3 of our state’s total budget.

Yet we’re still nickel-and-diming when it comes to things like the still-unfunded affordable housing fund established years ago by the Legislature.

Polls repeatedly show that everyday Idahoans are most concerned about education, housing, health care and well-paying jobs. Our money isn’t going to fund those priorities. Instead, our “leaders” are pushing a false narrative of scarcity while reneging on their stated promises. They crow about how “responsible” they are and tout a “surplus” while at the same time insisting that there’s no money to pay for the things Idahoans say they want.

Which is it? Do we have a bunch of “extra” money, or are we on the verge of poverty?

Another exercise I take workshop participants through is one around purpose. What is the purpose of the money?

For example, the purpose of a business is to make a profit. The purpose of a household is to cover the needs (and some of the wants) of a family, such as saving for a comfortable retirement, going on vacation once a year and leaving a legacy for future generations.

A government is neither a business nor a household. Governments are meant to be responsive to their constituents and provide services that can’t reasonably be provided by the private sector in a somewhat consistent manner.

The investments government makes in people are meant to pay dividends in healthier, safer and more educated communities. It’s hard to quantify the value of an investment in communities, but the returns are higher than you might think. The National Bureau of Economic Research found that each dollar spent on Medicaid expansion for children amounts to a return of $1.78 in tax revenue and other benefits later.

A report from Harvard University found that spending on programs like Medicaid expansion, K-12 education and college financial aid all “more than make up their cost to taxpayers over time” and that “it may not make sense to think of them as spending at all.”

None of our “leaders” blink at the idea of spending more than $800 billion in one year (that’s almost $1 trillion — in one year) on “defense.” But talk about how it would “cost” $1 trillion over 10 years to feed hungry children or invest in health care for all or help kids attend college? People lose their minds over the cost. “But how will we ever pay for it?”

It’s time for us to think about our priorities. Are we ready to invest in our people and communities?

Miranda Marquit, Master of Business Administration, is a nationally recognized speaker, writer, podcaster and author. She is the chair of the Bonneville County Democratic Central Committee.