By the Lewiston Tribune editorial board
The following editorial from the Lewiston Tribune does not necessarily reflect the view of The Spokesman-Review’s editorial board.
The Idaho Legislature may not go home for weeks, but already, the session’s prize for blatant hypocrisy has been claimed.
And this year, that distinction goes to the Idaho Freedom Foundation.
Last week, the IFF successfully called for defeating the Idaho Division of Welfare’s annual budget. Included within that budget – and the source of IFF’s ire – was federal coronavirus relief for the state’s struggling child care operators.
The idea behind this aid – contained within the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act signed by former President Donald Trump – was to maintain the infrastructure of child care providers during the pandemic. Much as it propped up the airline industry and colleges and universities, the federal government decided it would be cheaper and less disruptive to keep these businesses alive than to attempt to rebuild them once the economy recovered.
Not only did the initial response to COVID-19 shutter many child care providers, but the ongoing pandemic ultimately reduced the number of children who were enrolled, further depressing revenues. Costs kept rising, however, while staff continued to turn over.
As a result, child care providers have been running out of reserves. Since September, approximately 200 Idaho child care facilities have closed their doors. Working Idahoans already face child care shortages, a situation that can only get worse as the economy recovers and the job market improves.
So the Trump administration package authorized $58 million in relief for Idaho child care. Lawmakers approved spending $24 million of that in the fiscal year that expires on June 30.
The Division of Welfare budget was authorized to distribute the remaining $33.7 million for the fiscal year that begins on July 1.
But Idaho House members had other ideas.
By a 42-27 vote, they killed the budget. Joining them were five of north-central Idaho’s six House members – Priscilla Giddings of White Bird, Mike Kingsley and Aaron von Ehlinger, both of Lewiston, Brandon Mitchell of Moscow and Charlie Shepherd of Pollock.
Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee, not only voted for it, but was the unlucky floor sponsor.
What could account for such a turn of events?
As Clark Corbin of Idahocapitalsun.com noted, the Freedom Foundation gave the bill a thumbs down – which meant anyone supporting it would get dinged on its Idaho Freedom Index.
“The overall increase for this budget is 20.2% over prior years, with a 28.8% increase in federal funds,” IFF Vice President Fred Birnbaum wrote. “Put simply, we are passing on debt to our children and tomorrow’s children to pay for child care today. This is not sound public policy, and no way to ensure a bright future for our children.”
When the House vote concluded, IFF tweeted: “Great news.”
Missing from all this angst about “passing on debt to our children and tomorrow’s children” was the IFF’s enthusiasm for its own slice of federal coronavirus bailouts.
A year ago, IFF collected $129,883 from the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program.
That was more than a little out of character for this bastion of libertarianism, but IFF President Wayne Hoffman said he had no choice; the socialists made him do it.
“The government shut down Idaho’s economy, Idaho businesses, and therefore the donors who we depend on to generously support our work. Meanwhile, we also knew that pro-socialist groups would have no problem whatsoever accepting all the money they could from the government. We decided it only made sense to do the same. That’s not our preference, of course, but the actions of the government left us little choice,” Hoffman said.
When he got called on it, Hoffman railed at this page and other media outlets – and then added: “Government compensation for economic loss is consistent with the principles of liberty. We believe in limited government. And we also are well aware that there are times that the government deprives people of their freedom, and for that they must be compensated.”
Hoffman insists PPP was a loan – and perhaps IFF will be among the small handful of bailout recipients who repay that loan.
But until that day, the source of IFF’s coronavirus aid was every bit as borrowed from “our children and tomorrow’s children” as the assistance for child care operators.
The only question is what is more essential to ordinary Idahoans – the availability of care outside the home for their children? Or the survival of another Boise-based political think tank?
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