Governor’s ‘courage’ is smoke screening
Commentary by PAT MURPHY
Not everyone is willing to join the chorus
fawning over Gov. Dirk Kempthorne’s purported "courage" in proposing a sales tax
increase to help lift Idaho out of its desperate financial doldrums.
The governor’s "courage" comes late and is
When courage could’ve been genuinely
demonstrated by Kempthorne on at least two occasions long before this, the
governor was nowhere to be found.
The first time was when he could’ve
torpedoed the ill advised, ill timed and wholly unbusiness-like tax cut that
drained $100 million out of the state’s revenue stream and contributed in a big
way to the state’s current financial crisis.
The second occasion for courage was during
last year’s gubernatorial election campaign: Kempthorne could’ve risked his
political skin by leveling with voters that some sort of tax increase might be
necessary. Instead, he preened for the cameras and relied on safe, hackneyed
campaign clichés about children and education that papered over the crisis
facing the state.
So having (a) helped plunge the state into
its financial dark hole by not spiking the witless Republican obsession to drain
the treasury, and (b) then not being intellectually honest during the 2002
campaign to inform voters of his planned tax increase proposal, Kempthorne
hardly can be lionized as courageous.
If he’s such a man of courage, he has an
array of tough but practical budget alternatives he still can propose.
Propose a four-day workweek for all state employees, except for schools and
emergency services, to temporarily reduce the payroll as the state did in the
early 1980s. With private sector workers voting pay cuts and enduring layoffs
nationwide, Idaho’s public employees can hardly avoid the pain.
Propose a crash program to collect sales and income taxes from deadbeats who’ve
failed to pay.
Propose closing some sales tax exemptions that were created as ways of
attracting industry and business to Idaho.
Propose that inmates serving prison terms for nonviolent crimes¾drunken
driving, bad checks, minor property crimes, etc.¾be released early or placed in
diversion and probation programs. Of a prison population of some 5,200 inmates,
27 percent are serving time for property crimes and 5.6 percent for alcohol
offenses at a cost averaging $40 per day for each inmate or $24 million per
year. Reducing inmate population also would postpone the need for spending on
Propose revising Idaho’s sentencing laws that tend to load up prisons to
capacity, and rely more on diversion programs.
Those are just starters.
But the worse may still be ahead for
Idaho. If Gov. Kempthorne’s soul mate in the White House pulls off the reckless
break for America’s wealthiest by eliminating taxes on dividends, Idaho and
other states will find themselves in even more dire straits. (New independent
studies show President Bush is trying to sell his plan with "average" tax break
promises that are pure fiction.)
Asking the Republican president who’s
stripped the federal cupboard bare to find emergency relief funds to replenish
the bare cupboards of states that unwisely raced to squander their surpluses and
reserves is a comic portrait of budget bumblers seeking help from each other.
Unhappily, taxpayers don’t find
mismanagement of their resources to be a laughing matter.