When it comes to Idaho's finances, Gov. Butch Otter is a one-trick pony.
In a visit with people in Shoshone last week, someone reportedly suggested that Otter call for an increase in taxes on beer and wine.
A bill that would have done just that was rejected by the Legislature last year. So, Otter conveniently blamed the Legislature and said any kind of tax increase wouldn't have a chance.
The excuse is cheap and easy—and dangerously unfair to Idaho's future.
One of the things the Great Recession has done is to force people to pay attention to where their money is going. Finding the savings of cutting out a cup of coffee measly at best, taxpayers have begun to look hard at who pays taxes, how much they pay and if taxes are fair.
Maybe it's because a whole lot of money from hardworking taxpayers went to buoy up a bunch of arrogant, rich and floundering banks while taxpayers themselves were left to sink under the weight of lost jobs, lost insurance and foreclosed homes.
Taxpayers in our neighboring state of Oregon weighed in this week with the polar opposite of Otter's "no new taxes" mantra. An estimated 60 percent of Oregon voters went to the polls, shucked off decades of anti-tax sentiment and approved new taxes on businesses and higher taxes on the wealthy, with 54 percent in favor. The new taxes will prevent deep cuts in schools and state services.
So much for not wanting services like a good education for kids. So much for no new taxes—in Oregon.
Otter and Idaho's legislators should take heed. They need to stop focusing only on cost cutting without looking at ways to generate revenue. They should quit assuming that the only way to bring fairness to taxation and to restore the economy is to eliminate taxes.
They need to talk about the elephants in the room, including the de facto zero sales tax on sales of goods on the Internet and taxes on gasoline that haven't been increased since 1996.
The first is grossly unfair to bricks-and-mortar retailers who must charge sales taxes on goods while Internet merchants gain the advantage of being able to charge less.
The second is stupidly shortsighted.
State departments and commissions on the chopping block have quickly found ways to stave off their demise for now.
But nothing will save education and the services needed by Idaho's weakest citizens unless Otter and legislators take off the political blinders, roll up their sleeves and do what businesses and families do every day: Figure out palatable ways to bring more money through the door.