Today I sit at home at my living room table, a scarf, hot tea and afternoon sun keeping me from feeling the cold of the house– which we keep in the low 50s except when the wood stove is burning. We are trying right now to avoid buying another cord of wood from our favorite man with an axe. If things felt more hopeful economically we might spring for it. But In this environment, we all have our own ways of being frugal.
Tomorrow, Idaho's economic outlook committee will meet deep in the polished underground wings of the Capitol. We'll make wild guesses as to how much money Idahoans will pay in taxes in the year ahead. I've served all 8 years of my 4 terms in the Idaho legislature on this committee. I have a record of regular closest "guesses" at total tax revenues, a fact that's pleasing in good years but grim in years like 2009 when Idaho's economy began to take its dive.
The number we pick in the next week will set a limit for how much money we have to spend in our next state budget. We all know the number gets good when more people are employed and buy goods and services. Businesses do better then as well. And from it all, the state collects tax revenues which will fund elementary schools and community colleges, parks and drug treatment programs.
Does anyone think this year the Idaho legislature will suddenly re-consider our current strategy of telling every single state agency, "This year, no building anything, no hiring anyone, no replacing broken items or taking on new projects?" No. This three year austerity strategy has cost Idaho over 3000 state jobs. And somehow the Governor still seems proud of it.
When America had its last great depression, rather than paying unemployment for laid off workers, government paid them to do jobs communities needed to have done. Idaho has closed parks, health department offices, scaled back mental health treatment programs, laid off school teachers, increased class sizes in schools colleges and universities and much more.
Yet I'm sad to say I suspect those who loathe government will have their way with our economy again. They will continue the austerity in spite of the fact that it's hurting the very people who cry for lower taxes. Business owners. It all cycles around. Even 2000 jobs would do a lot for the Idaho economy, for builders, retailers, restaurants, and those who sell cord wood or consumer services. If we resisted the urge to deepen tax breaks and exemptions and focused instead on creating the most needed of state jobs, we might just inspire a few business owners to do a bit of hiring themselves. Imagine that.