The State of the State

Today marked the official opening of the 2024 Idaho legislative session. Idaho GOP Chairwoman Dorothy Moon laid out the priorities of the Republican Party for the session in the Lincoln Auditorium in the morning. As you know, last weekend the Idaho GOP passed a series of resolutions, each of which calls upon the Legislature to take action on various issues.

Moon also introduced Sen. Glenneda Zuiderveld and Rep. Julianne Young, who both return as the Idaho GOP’s legislative liaisons.

I secured a seat in the House chamber gallery for the governor’s State of the State Address. Most of the gallery was reserved for special guests of the governor or various legislators.

Governor Brad Little enters the House chamber flanked by Republican and Democratic leadership

You can read the full text of Governor Brad Little’s speech here, courtesy of the Idaho Capital Sun.

The speech was… interesting. Rep. Heather Scott wrote six predictions yesterday. I did not hear much today about preparing for terror attacks or “Decarbonizing the West” but she was spot on regarding increased spending. Governor Little introduced what he called the “Idaho Works” plan which increases spending on transportation, water infrastructure, student behavioral health, and public schools.

The governor played a rather long video to introduce the components of his Idaho Works plan. It felt somewhat odd to me. This was the first time I attended the governor’s address in person, so I don’t know if it was unprecedented, but it felt out of place. I would be interested in learning how much the governor’s office spent on this video.

In addition to Little, the video included clips from other political figures, including Congressman Russ Fulcher who lamented that the federal government was not as fiscally solvent as Idaho. This jumped out to me, because the big elephant in the room was how much federal money is incorporated into our state budget. Approximately 43% of the most recent budget comes from federal money, which has allows the governor and the Legislature to have their cake and eat it too. They’re able to cut taxes while still increasing spending and growing government When Fulcher said that he wished DC could be like Idaho, what he left unsaid was that DC doesn’t get nearly half its budget subsidized from another government.

Governor Little said that he would be supporting a constitutional amendment for a balanced budget at the federal level, which is a nice idea, but I am sure that such a thing would immediately decrease the amount of federal money we get here in Idaho, which would force some tough decisions on Little and the Legislature.

The promotional video ended with a series of testimonies from high school graduates who shared what they planned to do with their Idaho Launch scholarships. Governor Little told legislators that they would be receiving emails with the names of students in their districts who had taken advantage of the Launch grant. Applause for this was tepid, mostly coming from the Democrats, as it seemed that others in the chamber felt that it was as manipulative as I did.

The centerpiece of the Idaho Works plan was a proposal to spend $2 billion on public school infrastructure. As I understood it, this appropriation would either complement or replace bonds to repair and rebuild old school infrastructure. While I expected the governor to once again champion increased spending on public schools, I have to wonder about this proposal. While it appears that public school enrollment continues to rise, the rate of increase has slowed as more and more families are taking advantage of alternative opportunities. Is this the time to spend $2 billion on school buildings?

Governor Little called this $2 billion appropriation “property tax relief,” which is something of a shell game. If I move money from one column in my budget to another, am I really saving money? Yet that kind of rhetoric is normal in government. Spending increases are called cuts, and moving money around is called tax relief.

At the beginning of his speech, the governor boasted about the greatness of Idaho – its low unemployment, great economy, protection of women’s sports, and stance against CRT and DEI. Those are all great things about Idaho, and I’m pleased that the governor and Legislature have accomplished them. However, nothing matters if we can’t get spending under control. The governor has been having his cake and eating it too by growing the budget with federal money while cutting taxes. It can’t go on forever, and it ties our fortunes as a state to the federal government.

The ball is now in the Legislature’s court. Will they give the governor all the money he wants, or will they take a stand on behalf of the taxpayer, the Idahoans being eaten alive by inflation, and demonstrate fiscal conservatism?

The 2024 session has begun. Stay tuned for more!

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