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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of January 15 - 21, 2003

Opinion Columns

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 pretty hollow.

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.

He could:

·  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 new prisons.

·  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.


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