Friday, April 9, 2010

Idaho needs to make better choices

Keith Allred is a Democratic candidate for governor. He lives in Eagle with his family.


In Idaho, it is our choices—more than our circumstances—that determine our destiny. No matter how tough things get, we still have the opportunity to improve our circumstances or make them worse.

Of course, when times get really tough, it can feel like those options are slipping away. Maybe that's what happened to Gov. Butch Otter. At the beginning of the legislative session, he told us that our economic circumstances were so bad, the only thing we could do was make big cuts and hope things get better.

That just isn't true. We always have choices.

But that's not what we saw in Otter's decision-making. Otter decided to go down in Idaho history as the first governor to spend less on our children's education in the coming year than he spent in the last. And it's not just a little bit less; it's $128 million less. Most of us didn't need Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna to tell us that Otter's cuts will cause significant and lasting damage to student achievement. We knew it ourselves.

There were better avenues open to us. First, we could have built a budget based on evidence rather than despair. All four independent, fact-based economic projections that Idaho governors usually consult when building a budget said that we'll see more than $80 million in revenue growth next year. Second, we could have taken the Tax Commission's recommendation to fund additional staff to go after tax deadbeats and net $60 million in additional revenue.

Those two actions would have garnered $140 million in revenue, more than enough to offset the $128 million cut to education that the governor championed.

The problem is that Otter has fallen into a pattern of making poor choices. Now, these decisions have made our current circumstances tougher than they need to be.

During this recession, Idaho's economy has struggled more than surrounding states. We've had higher unemployment, higher foreclosure rates and lower economic growth than our neighbors, even though we're all facing the same economic storm. They've done better because they made better plans before the weather got bad.

We still have opportunities to improve our situation. We can pursue more strategic and aggressive funding for K-12 and higher education. And we can make sure that promising new businesses have access to capital. Doing this has helped surrounding states attract jobs that pay better and are more stable even in tough economic times. It can help Idaho.

Even though Otter's decisions during this year's legislative session will create challenges down the road, the citizens of Idaho still have time to make their own choice. In the 2010 election, we can choose to stick with a leader who submits to tough circumstances or choose a leader who believes in taking our destiny into our own hands.

We always have choices. They're just more important when times are tough.

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