We “punditry” types rely on words to praise or condemn when dealing with political, economic or related issues. The words and opinions come easier than facts and, too often, we throw the nouns and adjectives out there and walk away with few facts to support the opining.
But statistics – especially those compiled by people with a dedication to neutrality and letting the numbers speak for themselves – have garnered my respect over the years. While I don’t really understand how they do what they do, I’ve learned to appreciate those who work with numbers. Especially when their findings tend to support what many of us have said for a long, long time. These do.
Idaho is going to Hell in a handbasket.
Those are just my words again. But they’re based squarely on the findings of the Idaho Center For Fiscal Policy. A “gang that can shoot straight.”
Rather than go into all the messy numbers, here are just the headlines from the Center’s latest report.
“Idaho collects less in taxes than all but two other states.”
“Support for Idaho’s schools has been steadily decreasing and is unequal across school districts.”
“Idaho’s support for higher education has dropped sharply, leading to big increases in tuition and fees.”
“Idaho has steadily cut revenues since the late 1990’s.”
“Idaho’s low and moderate income residents pay a larger share of their income in taxes than the highest earners”
“Idaho’s per capita income is lower than all but one state – Mississippi.”
Those are their clinical, statistical findings. And they form the factual basis for the words “Idaho: Hell in a handbasket”
To my mind, those six headlines tie together in an endless circle. You can enter the circle at any point and exit randomly. But the pattern of disintegration in Idaho’s economic conditions just goes on and on. Down and down.
Native young Idahoans now graduating from the state’s universities have lived in a political environment of one-party politics all their years. And that single political domination is a big reason for these disastrous findings – and headlines, the findings and headlines that show why their education cost them as much as it did. When it shouldn’t have.
It’s possible, had the party in power all those years been Democrats, conditions could have been the same. I doubt it but let’s say it’s possible. The issue isn’t so much that it’s Republicans who have their fingerprints over this economic disaster as it is more the absence of a competing political voice for so many years. There’s been no strong, effective dissent from bad taxing policies and other lousy, self-serving, basic economic decisions – those created and enacted by unchallenged people making bad decisions after bad decisions. The spiral has kept gaining in downward intensity.
In this case, solidly Republican. And, for the most part, solidly rural Republicans ignoring the shifts in people moving to the cities and the racial and age demographics that were left out of the basic calculations necessary for good public policy. For decades! Without meaningful opposition.
And one more important point. While urban residents far outnumber rural, dominant elected Republican party and, thus, legislative leadership comes from small counties with declining populations. In a one-party state, decision-makers don’t represent the majority of the population. Which affects how tax laws are written, exemptions granted and to whom.
The Idaho business sector could give lessons to the Koch brothers on how to dominate a state government and to make that domination so effective in serving its own interests. The Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy doesn’t make that case in this report. But it has in others. The shifts of taxes from corporations to individuals and the outrageous exemptions given to large businesses and farmers have been going on for many, many years.
School districts – faced with increasing enrollment demands coupled with decreasing state support – have had to plead/beg with local constituencies to pass bond issues to keep the doors open. Not to update and do the best for children. No! Just to keep operating. As legislators went home – proudly boasting about the “tax cuts” they’d sponsored – taxpayers found themselves paying more because the “tax cuts” for business came at the expense of highways, water projects – and all of education.
It would be comforting if the Center’s report could be the basis for voter upheaval and give legislative and statewide offices a housecleaning. But that won’t happen. Those findings will wind up on another bookshelf to gather dust alongside others that found – in pure statistics – that Idaho is going to Hell.
Forget the handbasket.