There’s one resolution that Idaho’s Legislature needs to keep for the new year. That resolution is this: Do what Congress just did.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know what Congress just accomplished and how important it is to Americans. The federal government managed to cut taxes. Congress, good for not much of anything, managed to find a way to lower the government’s tax burden on most everyone. That means more money in people’s paychecks and in their wallets. It means more money for employers to invest in their businesses and their employees.
Idaho’s state government can also cut taxes, and each lawmaker should resolve to make it happen. But, for the Legislature to collectively to pull off this trick, it will take work. First off, though the federal government can deficit spend, the state cannot. By law, expenses cannot overtake revenues. That means the state will need to get to work on its budget.
You see, Idaho doesn’t have a revenue problem. It has a classic spending problem. For the last several years, the growth of government has outpaced the growth of the economy and people’s incomes. That’s why Idaho’s taxes are so high. We’ve been spending too much for taxes to go down. Our income taxes remain among the highest in the region. Further, we are one of the few states that tax people on the food we buy at the grocery store. For the last couple of years, efforts to cut taxes have all been scuttled, and every dollar that could have been put to tax relief was ultimately put into agency budgets.
That doesn’t need to be the case in 2018. Still, though plenty of legislators will advocate tax relief, many will defer to Gov. Butch Otter on the matter, and Otter hasn’t been as loyal to the idea of tax relief as he was in his younger days. His administration has already been making noise about obligations to spend more—a lot more—in various parts of state government, namely education.
Some Otter administration officials are also hinting that the federal government’s tax cuts will impact state tax collections not far down the road, leaving little room for tax cuts. The officials are saying that the most the state Legislature can or should do this year is “conform” Idaho’s tax code to that of the federal government. Don’t believe that. There’s plenty of money to do both. Though accepting the federal tax law changes into state tax law is useful, the effort does nothing to lower the state’s marginal income tax rates or get rid of the highly controversial tax on groceries.
Certainly, there are a lot of resolutions to greet the new year. To be kinder to one another. To give more to charity. To spend more time with friends and family. To listen more. However, all Gem State residents ask is one commitment from the state of Idaho and its elected officials: Pass tax relief. Congress did it. Now it’s Idaho’s turn. Ask your legislators to enact significant tax relief during the 2018 legislative session.