September 3, 2014 in Idaho

AdWatch: Otter claims Idaho’s economy is ‘on a roll’

By The Spokesman-Review
Ad Watch


“Facts don’t lie. Idaho’s economy’s on a roll. We’re one of the top 10 states for job growth. Fifth in the nation for economic health. And Idaho’s one of the best states to start a small business. While Washington meddles in our lives, Butch Otter is fighting to make Idaho a great place to live, work and raise a family. And it’s working . Building a brighter future, Butch Otter, governor.”


Idaho’s economy is recovering from the recession, but at a slower pace than most states. The “top 10 states for job growth” claim is based on forecasts from Moody’s Analytics and Kiplinger’s suggesting Idaho’s job growth rate in 2014 will be slightly over 2 percent, topping the 1.9 percent national average, and ranking the state either 9th, from Moody’s, or sixth, from Kiplingers. The Pew Charitable Trusts’ comparison of key state indicators shows Idaho had the third-highest drop in employment among 25- to 54-year-olds, those of prime working age, from 2007 to 2014, at minus 5.8 percent, eclipsed only by New Mexico and Nevada; the national figure was minus 3.7 percent.

The ad accurately cites a Bloomberg News “Economic Health Index” that ranked Idaho No. 5 among the states, and an American Legislative Exchange Council survey that ranked Idaho’s “economic outlook” 5th in the nation, but the two relied on varying factors, from tax and labor laws to bank deposits. Pew Trusts’ director of state and local fiscal health, Kil Huh, said personal income is considered a “proxy for prosperity, how much wealth is in a given state.” The most recent federal report on per-capita personal income, for 2013, shows Idaho ranks 50th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia at $35,382, ahead of only Mississippi.

The ad cites a Governing Magazine report on a survey of owners of small businesses about their perceptions of their states’ business-friendliness to claim Idaho’s one of the best states to start a small business; the article reported that Idaho was among three states getting an “A-plus” in the survey.


You can watch it here

BOISE – Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s new campaign commercial claims the state’s economy is “on a roll” thanks to his leadership, citing several selected measures.

But overall, Idaho’s economy, while growing, has been much slower to recover than most states from the big recession that hit just after Otter took office in 2006. Idaho saw the third-biggest drop in employment from 2007 to 2014, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts’ “Fiscal 50: State Trends and Analysis” report, a key measure of economic health. Its per-capita personal income ranked next-to-last in 2013, ahead of only Mississippi. Idaho’s unemployment rate in July was 4.8 percent, ranking 13th among states, but unlike Pew’s employment figures, that doesn’t take into account those who have given up looking for jobs.

Kaycee Emery, Otter campaign spokeswoman, said, “What we’re hearing is there’s a lot of people very positive about where our economy is and where it’s going because the governor has made so many tough decisions.” She said, “The focus of the ad is just to remind people that compared to the rest of the nation, Idaho is on top.”

Jasper LiCalzi, professor of political economy at the College of Idaho, said, “You can find numbers that’ll tell you almost anything. … Is it a flat-out lie, completely wrong? Probably not, but it’s weak information.”

The Otter campaign cites specific sources for its claims, like a Heartland Institute article ranking Idaho No. 5 for “best economic outlook.” That article, based on a survey by the American Legislative Exchange Council, ranks states on such measures as whether they have a right-to-work law barring compulsory union membership – Idaho does.

The campaign also cites a Bloomberg News “Economic Health Index” that ranked Idaho No. 5; a Moody’s Analytics report predicting that Idaho will be No. 9 for job growth in the coming year; and a Governing Magazine report that a survey of small business owners showed those in Idaho gave their state an A-plus for business-friendliness.

“Some of those are forecasts, but they’re based on facts and factual information that has come out of the state,” Emery said.

Kil Huh, director of state and local fiscal health for the Pew Charitable Trusts, said, “There are very differing views in terms of how one measures the health of an economy.” At Pew, he said, in addition to employment, “We look at personal income. … Personal income is a really good measure for measuring a state’s prosperity and sort of overall economic well-being.”

That’s a measure where Idaho has fared increasingly poorly since Otter took office. In 2006, when he was first elected governor, Idaho’s per-capita income ranked 42nd among the 50 states, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. It fell to 45th in 2008 and 49th in 2009, where it has remained since. In 1995, Idaho ranked 37th.

Norton Francis, a senior research associate with the Urban Institute, said Idaho currently is seeing faster job growth than some states, but it fell further during the recession and has more ground to make up than most. “For a lot of your stats, you’re still struggling,” he said.

LiCalzi said, “I’m sure he’s got polls that show the governor when we ask people about what they like about you and don’t like about you, the economy is one thing they don’t like. Well, let’s try to bump that up.”

As for Idaho’s economy, LiCalzi said, “Things are better, but it’s not robust. We’re not booming. When you get to a real boom, that’s when you see unemployment drop precipitously and wages go up. We’re nowhere near that.”

Jim Weatherby, emeritus professor at Boise State University, noted that Otter’s new ad – which launched this week in southern and eastern Idaho and will be playing in North Idaho in the coming weeks – comes on the heels of an Albertson Foundation-funded study that forecast that Idaho’s schoolchildren are likely to be poorer, more urban and more racially diverse in the next five years, a trend that poses challenges for the state’s schools.

“Typically a governor is punished for poor economic performance and is rewarded for good economic performance, so this is an area where he needs to come out swinging and he has,” Weatherby said.

LiCalzi said Otter’s “facts don’t lie” lead-in to the ad appears designed to counter all the news about Idaho’s economic challenges, suggesting “that’s the liberal media, they’re just saying all these things.”

There are 29 comments on this story. Click here to view comments >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email