Dave Finkelnburg

Dave Finkelnburg

Any couple who deals with household finances knows a fundamental truth. If they don’t pay what they owe, sooner or later the bill collectors come looking for them.

Just because they’ve got cash sticking out the top of the cookie jar doesn’t mean their debts aren’t even larger. That may be the situation Idaho is facing.

The governor has been trying to keep a lid on the state cookie jar for well over a year. His fiscal analysts have under-predicted state revenues and over-predicted spending every month for the last year and a half.

Now Idaho will have a whopping $1.9 billion of your tax dollars by July 1 according to the governor. The figure was almost $900 million by July 1 last year.

Still, under Republican control for more than the last 20 years the Idaho Legislature hasn’t been able to find enough money to meet the state’s constitutional requirement to adequately fund public schools. Last year was, sadly for students, no different.

Idaho already had a budget surplus of well over $600 million by the time the lawmakers went home last April. Still, they left behind a budget that provides Idaho schools with less money per student than any other state in the U.S.

These same Republicans haven’t been able to find needed money to take care of the state’s aging roads and bridges, either. They also haven’t come up with needed funds to maintain state buildings.

Gov. Brad Little’s budget requests $200 million for roads and bridges next fiscal year. As he told the Legislature Monday, that’s only a third of what’s necessary.

He also proudly announced he’s asking the Legislature to add $300 million this year to the school budget. That’s wonderful good news. However, it could be a lot better.

Little wants more than three times that much, $1.1 billion more of your tax dollars, to be stashed away in investments this year. The legislators who put forth the idea of a “rainy day fund” for the state 20 years ago never intended it to be growing at the same rate as coronavirus infections.

The fund, in moderation, makes sense. It shouldn’t, however, get out of hand as it appears to be doing.

Little didn’t mention how much more money Idaho schools really need. You can get an idea by looking at school funding in other states. Average state school spending in America is well over $14,000 per student per year. Note that half of states spend more than that, half spend less.

Idaho spends a lot less. Even with a long overdue infusion of state money for teacher pay in the last three years, Idaho still spends just over half of the average other states invest in education.

Little’s request for schools is roughly a sixth of what it would take to get Idaho on par with what’s just “average” school spending in this country. His budget request is clearly not enough. It’s also far less than Idaho can afford.

The governor asked for $600 million for income tax givebacks and cuts. He didn’t mention doing away with the sales tax on food that we all pay, though, or taking any action to lower soaring property taxes.

The grocery sales tax is hardest on the working poor who have the least to pay for food. Both Democrats and Libertarians in the Legislature have set their sites on eliminating that tax.

Property tax relief has gotten the attention of Idaho voters across the political spectrum during the last year. From Little’s speech, however, it appears he didn’t get the memo.

Instead, he offered another tax cut that happens to give the most to the richest. Is it any surprise, then, that it’s also twice as much as he wants for schools?

Dave Finkelnburg is a long-time Idahoan, a former newspaper journalist, and is currently semi-retired from an engineering career.