Taxes, freedom to work, education top priorities for 2020

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Legislative success in containing property taxes will make the difference as to whether some Idahoans have to move from their homes. It’s why property tax relief has to be the No. 1 priority for the upcoming legislative session. 

Property tax relief can be achieved by freezing local government spending and capping tax levies. Consolidating tax districts, reducing the number of bond and levy elections per year, limiting the use of so-called forgone tax revenues, using sales-tax revenue sharing to replace property taxes, and changing the way property values are calculated would also provide meaningful relief to Idahoans crying for help. 

Though property tax relief could be a signature policy success for the 2020 legislative session, this is a mighty fine time for Idahoans to remind lawmakers and Gov. Brad Little that a promise to eliminate the sales tax on groceries is getting long in the tooth. 

Eliminating the grocery sales tax might come down to simply using the ongoing tax windfall from the newly-enacted collection of online sales tax revenue — more than $28 million as of November — and applying it to the repeal of this very bad tax. 

Tax relief might also be helped along by Little’s efforts to propose the first fiscally conservative budget in many, many years. Holding agency budgets in check would clear space to end the grocery tax as well as allow state government to tee up income tax reductions in the coming years. 

Another priority for this Legislature is to remove obstacles that hinder people from working in the occupational field of their choice. Lawmakers should get rid of unnecessary and arbitrary restrictions on occupations. For nearly 60 percent of Idaho’s licensed occupations, a criminal conviction is enough for the government to deny a person a license to work. This denial can be based on youthful indiscretions in the distant past, crimes unrelated to the occupation, or minor violations that resulted in a misdemeanor, which was rectified by payment of a fine.

Additionally, Idaho makes it harder than other states and the federal government for young people to get jobs. This likely contributes to the fact that, today, fewer young people in Idaho earn a paycheck than 20 years ago. Restrictions on youth employment mean people don’t enter the job market until later in life, which is why some 20-somethings complain that they want an entry-level job that pays more, while employers complain it’s stupid to pay $15 an hour to an employee with no skills, hustle, or initiative. If we want to open doors of opportunity for young people, we should get the government out of their way, let them learn a trade, and allow them to acquire a lifelong appreciation for work.  

In regard to Idaho’s constitutional mandate to provide a system of public education, the Legislature must repeal Common Core education standards once and for all. Upon repeal, lawmakers can chart a new course that focuses on making Idaho’s education standards the best in the nation, not just “common.” 

To further improve education in the Gem State, lawmakers should rewrite the school funding formula and develop a spending plan that benefits students, and not special interest groups. It’s also time to broaden education options so parents can have more say in how and where their children educated.

Regarding higher education, colleges and universities need to be held to their promise to freeze tuition and fees. Lawkmakers ought to hold these institutions accountable for spending public funds on state-sanctioned discrimination, indoctrination, and social justice programs. The Legislature should repeal the scholarship program that rewards college dropouts with taxpayer-funded scholarships. 

I could write several hundred more suggestions for an awesome 2020 legislative session. Instead, it’s more important to remind lawmakers that the last two legislative sessions saw more advancement in free market policies than ever before. The results in 2018 and 2019 were positive departures from legislative sessions past wherein the needs of government took center stage. Now, with the governor thinking of taxpayers first on budget matters, I’m optimistic that limiting government is also an achievable outcome for the 2020 session.