Many liberals and administrators in my state bemoan the fact Idaho’s GOP majority tend not to be fans of growing the state budget and pouring money into infrastructure and planning projects. But perhaps it might interest these critics to note a new analysis from the Bureau of Labor Analysis. The report finds that Idaho has the second lowest income of any state in the country, 49th overall, and its per capita income barely met the national average increase of 2.6% in 2013. Combine this with the fact that Idaho now ranks as the state with the second highest percentage of minimum wage working adults and you start to see a pattern.
Idaho’s low-income population means that politicians and administrators are rightly wary of adding new tax burdens on individuals. Among the most prevalent and perhaps valid arguments are those that tie spending now to the future. Issues such as education, healthcare and transportation fall under this category. Proponents of a larger budget argue that spending more on education in particular would lead to an Idaho with a better educated workforce. True certainly. But an educated workforce by itself does not mean higher paying jobs coming to Idaho. As I have wrote before, Idaho has a significant demographic shift causing minimum wage jobs to be created.
Transportation and infrastructure are argued in much the same way. Spending on Healthcare would lead to higher at risk populations having access to preventive medicine leading to earlier and better health outcomes. Infrastructure spending, whether it be on roads or rural internet access, would ensure Idaho can cater to a diverse business and demographic community. Unfortunately, however, all these efforts cost a large sum up front. It is a sum Idahoans and many elected officials seem unwilling to pay. They may have a point, much to the dismissal of their critics.
Idaho’s high percentage of minimum wage workers and a low per capita income mean the substantial up front costs will burden current taxpayers. While it may benefit a future generation of Idahoans it is debatable whether current Idaho taxpayers would see the benefit. It should be mentioned politicians are naturally risk averse and supporting bigger budgets and tax increases is something both the left and right agree on as not being smart policy or politics.
Of course critics can rightly point to the fact that on education many taxpayers are already fronting the bill in the form of supplemental school district levies that help districts make up the shortfall in state funds. But even this argument has its limits. Many of these levies are not large and merely seek to keep district services at a minimum level (d0 more with less) and only property owners bear the cost of the supplemental levies. Ironically, this leads to a smaller share of wealthier taxpayers (property owners) paying more, something national Democrats love but it seems Idaho Democrats hate.
It might be a good start for all involved in the debate if this obvious fact is mentioned. Idaho is a low-income state and this has an impact on what the state can do and afford. It would be nice if the naysayers would do more than criticize and argue spending more is the answer. Targeted spending that works within a conservative state budget is the right way to improve quality of life, increase per capita income for all and make Idaho a better place to live for future generations.