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Otter prefers cutting taxes to good schools

Marty Trillhaase
January 13, 2013
Lewiston Tribune

Idaho's governor and lawmakers haven't been stingy with public schools because they were forced into it.

Stingy was a deliberate choice.

Here's the proof:

Newly released Census data show Idaho's tax burden has fallen every year since Gov. C.L. (Butch) Otter took office.

In 2006, state and local governments collected almost $112 for every $1,000 of personal income.

Four years later, that had dropped to nearly $90 for every $1,000 of personal income.

The Great Recession explains part of that. Tax collections among the states fell across the board. Washington state, for instance, collected $112 in 2006 vs. $96 four years later.

But Idaho's revenues plummeted. In 2006, its tax burden as a percentage of personal income was ranked 29th highest - behind Wyoming (first), Utah (18th) and Washington (28th), but ahead of Montana (32nd), Oregon (39th) and Nevada (38th).

Four years later, Idaho's rank had fallen to 45th - dead last among all Western states.

What would you expect? Three times in 12 years, Idaho has cut taxes on the well-to-do.

First came lower income tax rates in 2001.

Five years later, lawmakers undermined school support by cutting property taxes on corporations and large homeowners while raising sales taxes on those earning a modest income.

Then last year, they once again reduced the income taxes big businesses and upper-income households pay.

There's more to come.

The Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry has Otter's blessing in its bid to pull $140 million out of state and/or local governments by repealing the personal property tax big businesses pay on equipment.

Where do you think Idaho's tax burden ranking will land?


Dead last?

Unless you believe in magic - or the equally disputed notion that cutting taxes produces wealth - then the only option left is to trim budgets. In Idaho, that means public schools, which account for the largest chunk of state spending.

Even now the state allocates less per pupil than all but one state.

During the recession, the amount of money sliced from each child's education was larger in Idaho than all but two states.

The share of Idaho's personal income devoted to public schools - a figure that remained secure for decades - has dropped 25 percent since the new century began.

The man who dug up that evidence, former Idaho Chief Economist Mike Ferguson, has reservations about Otter's latest budget. Now director of the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy, Ferguson told Northwest Public Radio Otter's proposed 2 percent increase in education spending shows schools are no longer a priority in Idaho.

Actually it's worse. If you consider all sources of school support - federal, state and local - Otter would increase school spending by only 1.6 percent.

That translates into no salary increases for teachers - and no more money to cover the rising cost of utilities and text books.

Plus it assumes more than $30 million pegged to the since-repealed Luna laws is restored to the public schools.

Yet Otter has $35 million to put in a rainy day fund - plus another $13 million plugged into a fund balance.

By this time next year, Idaho will have an extra $48 million on hand. Any guesses as to how long it will take Idaho's governor and GOP Legislature to funnel that "surplus" into another tax cut?

Originally posted at

The editorial posted here is provided by permission of its original publisher and does not necessarily reflect the views of Idaho Public Television.

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