Wednesday, August 13, 2014

And here we have Idaho, winning her way to shame


The Times News recently published an op-ed about the current state of affairs in Idaho.  To put it shortly, things aren't good and they won't be getting better with the current GOP leadership.  This is something I have thought about every time I am in Utah.  I keep wondering to myself why is Utah developing while Idaho is standing still?  (Have you seen the new trams, trains, billion dollar shopping malls and heard about the plans to build a 2 billion dollar airport? Yeah incredible). Take a look at where Idaho stands:
  • Idaho ranks 49th out of 50 in percentage of workers who work for minimum wage.  Despite this ridiculous statistic minimum wage is still $7.25 the federal minimum.  The GOP establishment has no plans to raise minimum wage in the future.
  • Idaho ranks 49th out of 50 in per capita wages.
  • Idaho ranks 49th out of 50 in levels of discretionary spending.  
  • Idaho education got 48th out of 50 in a 2013 quality evaluation that you can read about here
  • Idaho ranks 49th in doctors per capita.
  • Idaho ranks  last in Internet download speed.  You can read a slightly outdated report here
To put it bluntly many Idahoans are poor and the chances of success are lower than they should be.  During this same period of time all of Idaho's neighbors have seen significant GDP growth.  This also happened during a time when the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints decided to invest hundreds of millions of dollars to expand Ricks College from a 2 year community college to a 4 year BYU-Idaho university bringing in thousands of students and many quality high paying jobs. In other words the state leadership got one of the biggest freebies of all time and still piloted Idaho to the bottom of the rankings. 

This shouldn't come as a surprise given the way in which the GOP has run the state over the last decade. First, I will list some things that should have already happened that certainly should happen in the next 10 years.  Then I will explain why it will never happen with the current GOP leadership.
  • Improve education across the board.  This will be the key to developing industry, recruiting companies, and increasing the welfare of the citizens.
    • Medical school in Idaho.  It is shameful that Idaho (population 1.6 million) does not have a medical school. To get more doctors we will need more residency places but that can only happen with a medical school.  Increasing the funded places for Idaho residents to go to out of state medical schools is like putting on a band aid when surgery is needed.
    • Improve the Universities in Idaho.  Boise State University, Idaho State University, and University of Idaho, to be blunt are second tier universities.  None of them rank in the top 150 in the US News report.  This results in a brain drain from Idaho as the top students leave Idaho to go to BYU, University of Oregon, University of Washington, University of Utah, or other regional schools that are much higher in the rankings.  These students can easily get scholarships that waive out of state tuition.  This type of improvement means real investment to bring in the top professors, to build the top facilities, and to offer scholarships to bring in the best students.  Universities should be feeders to the top companies in the state.
    • Increase spending for K-12. A starting teacher in Idaho makes under $30,000.  That ranks 46th out of 50.  Wyoming pays $43,000, Utah and Oregon pay $33,000, Washington pays $36,000, and Nevada pays $35,000.  If you are a good teacher where would you go to work?  Not Idaho.  We can argue about performance pay (which I support) and other educational reform details but the bottom line is that there has to be money in the education budget to argue about. 
  • Turn Boise into a mini silicon valley
    •  In many ways Utah has already beat Boise to the punch.  If a mini silicon valley is too much to dream about then a mini mini silicon valley should be the goal.  Micron already set up shop in Boise and could have been a key selling point to other tech companies. Idaho will need to be aggressive in getting these types of companies.  Tax breaks, educated work force, and a good brand are all key.  Turning Boise State into a world class university (or at least a top 150 in the US!) to be a feeder for these companies would be a good start. 
  • Improve Idaho's image
    •  For starters Idaho should end the war on gays. This has little to do with gay marriage and everything to do with legislation aimed at discriminating against gays. A proposed bill to protect religious freedom was fortunately pulled after people realized that it would mean legalized discrimination.  For decades Idaho Republican legislatures have refused to add sexual orientation onto the list of anti-discrimination legislation.  These types of actions have a negative effect on Idaho's image which makes young talent less likely to want to come work in Idaho and makes companies less likely to relocate to Idaho. 
    • Don't intentionally make Idaho the joke of the nation.  Butch Otter recently refused to debate Fulcher unless everyone was included.  By including clowns the focus was taken off Otter's main opponent.  This was a shrewd political move but at the expense of the entire state. 
Idaho has great potential.  Good things have and are happening, but things could and should be much better.  The GOP leadership has failed Idaho, especially Governor Butch Otter.  In addition to the shameful rankings listed above Idaho leaders have passed several out of touch bills including the ag-gag bill and the campus gun bill.  I encourage all Idaho residents to vote Butch Otter out of office this November by voting for AJ Balukoff instead.  Balukoff's platform looks surprisingly similar to the key's I outlined above.  A vote for him is a vote for Idaho's future.  Yes Otter has done a good job at bringing in crappy jobs, and keeping taxes low for those who don't need tax breaks, but Idaho can do much better and it starts with us.  Get Otter out! Vote for AJ!


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