The legislative session that starts Jan. 9 is already shaping up to be a panoply of special interests. Gov. Butch Otter will propose no tax relief for you, but don’t confuse that to mean he won’t propose tax relief.
Otter has at least two special interest tax-break bills slated for consideration by the Legislature. One would provide a sales exemption to companies that build data centers in Idaho. The other bill would expand the state’s tax incentive program, started in 2014, which gives an arbitrary reduction in the tax liability of select companies that win the blessing of the Department of Commerce.
No doubt the Otter administration will tell us how special deals for the politically connected is good for Idaho. He’ll argue that such proposals will result in companies wanting to locate here. What he won’t tell you: special interest tax breaks have been proven in study after study to be failures. Such breaks increase the cost of doing business and produce little in increased economic vitality. Sweetheart deals increase expenses for everyone else not fortunate enough to have been blessed by the government.
Such tax breaks wind up rewarding companies that would have moved here anyway. A data center might locate in Idaho because of lower electricity and wage costs. Value-added agriculture companies (cheese and yogurt makers, for example) come here to be close to plentiful dairy farms. In general, favored companies don’t bring new jobs with them. Rather, the favored companies hire employees away from existing businesses, which forces incumbent businesses to pay more to retain their current workforce or recruit new employees.
We’re supposed to suspend our disbelief and not question what we’re told about backroom deals and proposals that clearly are intended to benefit a select few. We’re told to ignore the cries of small businesses when they talk about treading water in an increasingly painful labor environment -- created and propped up by our own state government. We’re told to ignore the fact that Idaho’s taxes are among the highest in the intermountain region and to let yet another year slip by in which the Legislature does nothing to address the problem.
For too long, the desires and priorities of special interest groups have held sway with the state’s policymakers. My New Year’s resolution is to expose, combat and defeat special interests in all forms. I hope it’s yours, too.
Fighting special interests is more than an invitation to object to cronyism and corporate welfare. This is an invitation to propose new ideas for the betterment of our households, our families and our communities. This is also about demanding to be heard. If our politicians are going to hear about a plan to give a sales-tax break to specific kinds of companies with specific types and levels of investments, they should also hear more about the long-sought proposal to eliminate the sales tax on groceries, a plan that would save money for every single Idahoan. They should also hear proposals to cut Idaho’s income taxes for all businesses and all residents.
For too long, special interests have had their way in our state. It’s time for the rest of us to get a fair shake. Let’s resolve to make 2017 the year special interests are kicked to the curb.