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Fisher: Otter Deserves Hoover ‘Honor’

If legislators go along with Otter's recommendations, he will earn a place near the top of Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman's list of what Krugman recently called 50 Herbert Hoovers in governors' offices. Krugman's charge was based on the refusal by most state governments to continue investing in their futures during tough economic times/Jim Fisher, Lewiston Tribune. Full editorial below.

Question: Should education be spared from Idaho budget cuts?

In 2002, Idaho's governor and Legislature cut the state's higher education appropriation by 10 percent, doing long-term damage to a system that was never flush with state support. Today, only seven years later, Gov. Butch Otter appears to think that worked so well he wants to repeat it.

In presenting his budget recommendations to legislators Monday, Otter asked for an increase in the state's gasoline tax to prevent roads and bridges from deterioration, but when it came to education, he chose deterioration over maintaining support. His proposed budget cuts spending on public schools - for the first time ever - by 5.5 percent and on Idaho's three universities and Lewis-Clark State College by 10 percent.

If legislators go along with Otter's recommendations, he will earn a place near the top of Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman's list of what Krugman recently called 50 Herbert Hoovers in governors' offices. Krugman's charge was based on the refusal by most state governments to continue investing in their futures during tough economic times.

Within Idaho's Republican majority, increasing tax revenue to avoid harm to education is apparently such a zany idea no one mentions it. And even Otter's proposed hike in the gas tax is far from universally welcomed. But if you look back at what caused the 2002 higher education cut, the way to avoid cuts of this magnitude is not that farfetched.

Legislators broke ground for their budget hole in 2001, when surplus revenues led them to ignore Gov. Dirk Kempthorne's proposal for temporary tax relief and instead approve permanent tax cuts. Included in those cuts was a reduction from 8.2 percent to 7.8 percent in the income tax rate paid by most Idahoans.

The following year, some guardians of education funding proposed delaying the cuts scheduled to begin that year to avoid a pending budget crisis. But legislative majorities rejected the suggestion, leading to such necessities as the hit to higher ed.

Only after revenues improved under the existing tax structure did schools of higher education start to regain lost ground. But now, Otter has scheduled them for another big step backward, without even fully tapping rainy-day savings funds first.

How much of that might be avoided by returning the individual income tax rate to where it was eight years ago, and how many Idahoans would object to paying four-tenths of a percent more to hold education harmless during the current recession?

If no one asks those questions, it's a certainty no one will answer them.

Instead, legislators will surely give Otter close to what he is asking for, even if it constricts the state's ability to climb back out of current economic morass. And for a growing number of young people, state government could be repairing roads and bridges to nowhere. - J.F.



D.F. Oliveria
D.F. (Dave) Oliveria joined The Spokesman-Review in 1984. He currently is a columnist and compiles the Huckleberries Online blog and writes about North Idaho in his Huckleberries column.

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