Idaho Gov. Brad Little touted his accomplishments and ambitious agenda made possible by a booming economy and huge budget surplus during a brief visit to Lewiston on Friday.
“I never thought three years ago when I started this job I would be able to do the trifecta, which is record tax relief, record investments in education and record road (investments).”
Little is three years into his first term as governor and is expected to seek a second. Earlier this week, the Idaho House approved a record $600 million tax cut that includes a one-time $350 million rebate, as well as an ongoing $251 million reduction in income tax rates.
Little supports the legislation and fended off criticism that the cuts favor the wealthy by saying everyone who pays income will benefit.
“Whatever people are paying, we are going to give part of it back and then we are going to lower rates in the out years,” he said.
Democrats have said the top 1% of income earners will see rebates worth thousands of dollars but those near the bottom will get just $75.
Little said the lower rates will help border communities like Lewiston that abut Washington, which has no state income tax.
“We all know there are people who live in Clarkston just so they don’t have to pay income taxes.”
He expects his education initiatives will do the same. On Friday, he touted a planned education funding increase that will raise school district support per employee for health insurance from about $8,500 to $12,500 and allow school districts to switch from private health insurance plans to a state funding plan.
“The teachers are moving around because the quality of health insurance (in one district) is way different than another.”
He expects the legislature to introduce legislation aimed at reducing local property taxes but said he didn’t know what form they might take. He said his proposed investments in education can help by reducing the need for supplemental levies.
“That is why I’m putting so much money into education. That should lessen the need for supplemental (levies),” he said. “If you don’t need a supplement for kindergarten, if you don’t need a supplemental (levy) for health insurance, if you don’t have to have a supplemental (levy) for something else, you can let that supplemental (levy) expire and people’s property taxes are going to go down and that is a decision made by the community and the local school board.”
Little didn’t touch on efforts to restore imperiled salmon and steelhead runs in his State of the State address Jan. 10, but said Friday he believes improved ocean conditions will provide much-needed relief.
“I have said if I could wave a magic wand, I would fix ocean conditions more than anything else,” he said. “That is huge. Even Mike Simpson and some of the tribes will tell you, you can take the dams out but if the ocean conditions continue to deteriorate it doesn’t matter.”
Last year, Simpson proposed a $35 billion plan to breach the four lower Snake River dams to save threatened and endangered Snake River salmon and steelhead. Little opposes dam breaching.
Little has yet to make an official announcement that he will seek a second term.
“My standard line is, nobody should be surprised,” he said. “The filing deadline is in March and my initiatives on taxes, education and roads is what is occupying all of my time. That is why I’m on the road right now talking about these three priorities that are my trifecta. If I can get those done, that will be a much easier decision.”
Little will face Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin in the primary election in May. Little deflected a question asking if it would be appropriate for the legislature to cover the private legal bills McGeachin incurred after she was sued by journalists for failing to release public documents.
“That is way above my pay grade,” he said. “That is up to the Joint Finance and Appropriation Committee.”
A judge ordered McGeachin, who hired the private attorney after declining to follow the advice of the Idaho Attorney General’s office, to release the records and pay the journalists’ legal fees.