Idaho Gov. Brad Little delivered a State of the State address Monday that avoided the kitchen table issues.
Sure, anytime a Republican governor accelerates spending on Idaho’s woefully underfunded public schools, it’s good news.
But nobody was clamoring for Little’s ploy to make the state income tax more regressive by reducing the number of brackets and lowering the top rate — handing out $350 million in one-time rebates this year and then a permanent $250 million cut each year thereafter to the investor class.
Left unmentioned were the worries of ordinary Idahoans:
l Property taxes — It’s not just that taxes are rising; it’s that the burden on the homeowner is expanding. That’s no accident. The politicians in Boise designed it that way.
By law, Idaho tries to shield half the value of a modest home from taxation. But beginning in 2016 — just as the housing market began erupting — GOP lawmakers froze the maximum benefit of the Homestead Exemption at $100,000. Last year, they upped it to $125,000 — but it still falls almost $49,229 short of meeting inflation.
Of the 465,998 primary residences in Idaho, 305,156 (65.5%) were valued greater than $250,000 — which means they pay more tax than they otherwise would if the GOP legislators had left well enough alone.
As you look over the latest numbers, keep this principle in mind: If one group of people winds up paying that much more, someone else will pay less.
The Idaho homeowner paid 71% of the property taxes collected in Idaho last year — up from 69% just a year before and 60.7% in 2012.
Taxes on owner-occupied homes rose 5.8% from 2019 to 2021.
Owners of residential property not eligible for the Homestead Exemption — typically second homes — actually paid 1.4% less during that time.
Owners of commercial and industrial property enjoyed an 11.8% property tax cut these last two years.
And one of the biggest drivers of property tax increases has been Idaho’s last-in-the-nation support for its public schools. To compensate for inadequate state school budgets, local patrons have voluntarily signed up to pay another $218.2 million in so-called supplemental property taxes — setting a record for the sixth year in a row.
Were Little to lift that burden from property owners, his proposed $300 million public school budget increase would shrink by more than two-thirds.
l COVID-19 — Other than pointing out what he refused to do — no vaccine passports, no mask mandates, no lockdowns and fighting the Biden administration in court over vaccine mandates in the workplace — the governor offered nothing.
Meanwhile, ordinary Idahoans are about to confront the omicron surge. Nationally, cases are up 228% in the last two weeks. Idaho cases have risen 88% — with about 8,000 outstanding lab results.
While people who have two vaccines and a booster shot can be confident they won’t require hospitalization or die from omicron, Idaho has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country.
About 35% of Idahoans age 65 and older are not fully vaccinated. Almost 60% of Idahoans 18 and older have not received the two shots and a booster.
Because of breakthrough infections, even the fully vaccinated may come down with a more benign form of the virus, leaving huge swaths of the workforce at home.
So what’s the governor’s plan to address hospitals and clinics that can expect to see staff shortages as their own teams become infected and quarantine? Idaho just emerged from more than two months of overwhelmed hospitals operating under crisis standards of care, rationing scarce life-saving treatment to those most likely to survive long term.
What happens when teachers come down with omicron and are forced to leave their classrooms?
What about the impact on Idaho’s overall economy?
Where’s the governor’s vaccination program?
What advice does he offer workers, parents, students and businesses about what’s ahead in the coming month or two?
l Child care — Three months ago, Little acknowledged how the dearth of affordable child care was contributing to Idaho’s tight labor market.
Like every other business, child care centers are confronting a shortage of workers.
It’s one reason why more than 200 child care centers closed their doors more than a year ago.
Unlike other businesses, they lack the price elasticity that would allow them to boost wages and attract more staffers. Raise the cost of child care too much and parents will make the inevitable choice to remain home. The share of Idahoans 16 years old and older who are working dropped to 62.5% from 71% in 1998.
The fine print of the governor’s budget may have redeemed some of the promises he made in October to act. But the child care issue popped up at the end of a litany of issues Little mentioned in one breath — along with “clean and plentiful water, ... broadband access, increased medical capacity, ... outdoor recreation and improved land and fire management, ... career technical education, colleges, workforce development and housing” ... on Page 8 of his speech.
Far more apparent was the governor’s repeated antipathy toward President Joe Biden in name and his May GOP primary opponent, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, by inference.
For a governor who wants to be renominated and win a second term, that makes good politics.
But in so doing, Little managed to ignore much of the state of his own state. — M.T.