Idaho’s new governor, Brad Little, was impressive in his first State of the State address. The vision he laid out for the legislative session was comprehensive, detailed and proposed a number of sensible, pragmatic solutions to problems facing the state.
Little has taken the helm of state at a challenging moment.
A set of changes to income taxes last session mean that revenue has been well below expectations. The state will probably catch up eventually — the problem is caused by workers not updating their withholding information — but that likely won’t happen until April, after the budget has already been set.
With revenue collection somewhat uncertain, two major policy priorities could have been endangered: Medicaid expansion or the repeal of the grocery tax, a key priority for Little. As lieutenant governor, Little made the rare move expressing public support for the policy, opposing Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s veto.
Given a tight budget and competing priorities, Little mapped out a responsible path forward Monday.
Little has budgeted large ending balances for the general fund, meaning he plans not to count on revenue arriving after the budgeting process is complete. And Little has budgeted funds for Medicaid expansion this year while waiting a year on the grocery tax. Leaving those extra dollars on the table this year will mean that funds are already available to move forward with grocery tax repeal next year.
This is a noble course for Little to pursue.
Little has prioritized the people’s will over his own signature policy while ensuring the state won’t have unexpected spending hold-backs that disrupt efficient government operation. Deference to the sovereign will of the people, combined with sound fiscal sense, is exemplary conduct for a leader in a democratic republic.
Little is policy wonk who knows he answers to voters. That’s an excellent combination. Here’s hoping members of the Legislature considering efforts to block Medicaid expansion learn from his example.
Little outlined several other admirable goals in his speech and his budget, including raising starting teacher pay to $40,000. That should make Idaho a more attractive place to be a teacher and stem the extremely high turnover rate among new Idaho teachers.
Importantly, he’ll create an initiative called “Our Kids, Idaho’s Future,” whose purpose is to plot the next five-year plan for education policy. That’s vital to continuing the steady gains that have been made over the last five years for Idaho’s education system.
Little called to double funding for early childhood literacy programs, an important step for the educational and economic advancement of Idaho students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Little is also right to put focus on rural broadband access, a public works undertaking that could bring much-needed economic opportunity to areas of the state that have been left out of recent growth.
Little’s executive order requiring two state regulations to be repealed for any new one to be put in place is slightly dubious — the state’s regulatory burden is poorly measured by simply tallying the number of regulations — but it’s unlikely to do much harm. State regulatory bodies should be able to find some old hangers-on to discard. And if it results in an extra effort to find and nix regulations that aren’t doing much good, all the better.
Little is embarking on a job for which he is clearly prepared, and we are quite hopeful about the 33rd governor of the Gem State.