Idaho has a $2 billion surplus. That means the state collected $2 billion more in taxes than it needs, so a special session to return the majority to taxpayers ought to be an easy, warmly-received decision.
Unfortunately, it now appears that aggressive tax relief is not Gov. Brad Little's primary reason for calling legislators back to Boise.
He is instead proposing to use the surplus to appeal to leftists by throwing more of our money into government schools than even the socialists at Reclaim Idaho are demanding via their initiative on the November ballot.
Little's plan calls for giving back less than 10% of the surplus to residents in the form of ongoing tax cuts, and it surrenders the moral high ground on education policy.
Reclaim Idaho's original ballot initiative would have raised $323 million in taxes for K-12 schools. Because of drafting errors, it raises much more than that.
Enter Little, whose special session would dump $410 million more into schools, or about 27% more than Reclaim Idaho wanted. The bill is being drafted as a tax bill so that sales taxes could be diverted to an ongoing dedicated education fund, irrespective of the other traditional funding sources for K-12 schools.
What sort of message is sent when a Republican governor capitulates to leftists who can’t gain more than a toehold at the Legislature?
Idaho has already increased all funds K-12 education spending by 42% in the last two fiscal years, an increase of nearly a billion dollars. So we have a Republican governor and a leftist group competing to see who can give the most money to K-12 schools.
In Washington, D.C., the U.S. Senate is divided 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats. Yet you might have noticed that Democrats achieve every major policy objective they want, sometimes in small steps, other times in giant leaps. Democrats have passed gun control, the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and now the ironically-named Inflation Reduction Act. Democrats wield their power effectively.
In Idaho, the Republican Party holds 86 of the 105 seats in the Legislature, about 82% of the Idaho House and Senate. That’s a super-super majority – a veto-proof majority. Shouldn’t a special session of the Legislature to address a $2 billion surplus be able to achieve conservative policies, something other governors and state legislators would be impressed by and seek to repeat? Not here.
This fiscal year, Idaho is projected to collect about $3.2 billion in corporate and individual income taxes, $2.4 billion in sales taxes, and more than $2.1 billion in property taxes for local governments. With a $2 billion surplus, it’s not difficult to imagine cutting property taxes in half or more, or providing substantial tax relief in other tax categories.
Little could even provide sales tax relief. He campaigned four years ago that he would eliminate the sales tax on groceries, and he simply hasn’t followed through with so much as a proposal to address the issue.
But none of that is on the table.
Rather, Little is proposing a single take-it-or-leave-it bill with three components: A skimpy income tax reduction from 6% to a flat 5.8%, a one-time $500 million income tax rebate, and diverting sales taxes into a new fund for public schools with a price tag of $410 million.
There is no emergency requiring this new education fund now. Keep in mind local school districts have over $1 billion in reserve fund balances.
What’s more, schools are being used as centers to indoctrinate kids into worshiping at the altar of wokeism. We know from our IFF research that a number of Idaho schools have invested heavily in critical social justice ideology. We also know that President Joe Biden has ordered schools accepting federal lunch program money to capitulate to the transgender agenda. Rather than deal with those issues, Little and the legislative leadership are simply throwing more money at a broken government education system. It’s a total and complete surrender to leftist thinking.
If the Legislature approves the governor’s plan, expect Reclaim Idaho to take a victory lap. The group will get more than it was asking for, and they’ll be back again with their socialist ideas, hopeful that a compliant governor and Legislature will just roll over and do its bidding. Idaho taxpayers and school children will continue to pay the price for weak leadership.