As the saying goes, “Don’t tell me what your values are. Show me your budget and I’ll tell you what your values are.”
Our annual state budget transforms the values of our lawmakers into action: how deeply we care about children, seniors, education, health care access and much more. Our budget demonstrates whether we are creating opportunities for Idahoans to climb the economic ladder to prosperity. And it shows when we are catering to special interests or kicking the can down the road when it comes to smart investments.
Recently, the Republican-led Legislature has prioritized costly tax giveaways for the wealthy and well-connected. This has created an upside-down tax system, where the well-off pay a smaller share of their income than people who earn modest wages. It has also reduced our capacity to fund education and other building blocks of a strong economy.
Yet another study of revenue cuts that benefit the rich was released last month. With 50 years of data from 18 countries—including the United States—it proved once again that tax cuts for the well-off make the rich richer without providing real economic benefits to everyone else.
It’s time to chart a different course for Idaho. We must focus on sensible investments and strengthening the middle-class through tax credits that boost working families.
First, we must do right by our children and adequately fund education. When children reach their full potential, they can find the jobs that will allow them to support their own families.
Second, we must fully fund health care. Medicaid is more important than ever. Idahoans signed up for health insurance last year as they faced job losses, cut hours or income loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More residents than expected sought mental health services as well. It is critical that these services continue for the health of our residents as well as our economy. For every $1 allocated from Idaho’s General Fund toward Medicaid expansion, the state receives $9. This has positive ripple effects across local businesses. Cutting health benefits harms not only Idahoans but also our shared economic recovery.
Finally, this is the moment to show up for Idaho’s working families. Pandemic-related unemployment and income loss are still widespread. We cannot waste revenue on failed tax policies when we have evidence of what works: putting more income into the hands of working class families to actually propel the economy forward.
We can spread prosperity by creating tax credits for working families, such as a state earned income tax credit, and making our child tax credit fully accessible to all Idahoans—not just those higher up on the income spectrum. A few hundred dollars can help a family stay current on utility bills, cover a car repair that allows them to get to work or buy shoes for a child’s growing feet. These expenditures, in turn, support our local businesses and lead to greater economic impacts.
On Monday, Governor Little will reveal his values in his executive budget. I encourage him to finally put working Idaho families first.
But the Legislature will have the final word. I hope we can come together to meet the moment, reverse the pandemic’s ongoing economic fallout and realign our tax code with our values for the benefit of all Idahoans.