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Brugger: Idaho didn't buy the snake oil

A report in the Times-News about Republican Judy Boyle of Midvale caught my eye this week. She sponsored legislation that passed both houses unanimously. That is always an achievement, but it was not the part of the story that made me want to pass it on.

Midvale, in Washington County north of Boise, is the center for the activity of Idaho’s only oil and gas producer, Alta Vista. When the company first wanted to start business in Idaho, Alta Vista cooperated with Rep. Boyle in drafting the required legislation to regulate the industry. Environmental groups felt the legislation was inadequate, but it passed.

The great news is that, to her credit, Rep. Boyle soon realized that Alta Vista was not operating with integrity. This year she drafted a bill that significantly strengthened the regulating commission. She convinced all her Republican teammates to vote for the Landowner Bill of Rights as well as the expected Democrats.

Of interest to me is the fact that Alta Vista reportedly sent a letter to the governor hoping he would deter her effort. He was told that “anti-industry activists” were making “unfounded accusations that we have somehow behaved inappropriately.” To their credit, the Republicans did not buy the rhetoric.

I’m excited because “anti-industry activists” is usually thrown toward liberals in a disparaging way. It could have provided some cover if Republicans had disagreed with the legislation, but they didn’t use it. The truth was, Alta Vista sought to use the anti “big government” bias of the Legislature to avoid the payment of adequate royalties to Idaho. They sought to take advantage of our inexperience with industry practice to profit from uninformed regulation. Or, if you’re into more plain speaking, they thought we were “country bumpkins” and they could pull the wool over our eyes.

This is an excellent example of why I do not fear government regulation. It is a sad fact that the more our population grows, so does the number of snake oil salesmen. I don’t think the percentage has changed, but the numbers predictably have. The varieties of snake oil have also increased. Sales technology has exploded. Even well-informed people can find themselves blindsided.

Well administered and up-to-date regulation is a duty of government because it “…promotes the general welfare ... .” The important point is that well-administered and up-to-date regulation is useful. Idaho added more specific expertise to this commission. It’s a good start.

It is also important for regulators to listen to the problems of the people being regulated. Unintended consequences must be addressed. Regulations must be revisited, and not just by the courts.

The unholy war of unimportant but sometimes hurtful words being waged around public policy must cease. There is governing to be done, and it can only be done through thoughtful legislation. The best answer to public problems is often to revisit and revise old positions. I congratulate Rep. Boyle and hope that her example is followed as the Legislature prepares for a new year.

Other View: The Trump tax proposal's devilish details

The Trump tax plan, unveiled in one sketchy page last week, is like a bottle of bad wine: It’s not aging well.

Central questions remain unanswered. The White House says it will fill in the important details later, in the meantime pushing dubious and duplicitous claims.

Three illustrations make the point. Administration officials won’t say whether the personal exemption would be eliminated, hardly an arcane detail. They falsely suggest that the plan will increase taxes on some wealthy investors by eliminating a tax loophole used by executives of hedge funds and private-equity firms known as “carried interest.” And they rely on the dubious assumption that Congress will no longer allow state and local taxes to be deducted from federal taxes.

As more phony claims and higher costs emerge, the already tough task of reforming the tax system becomes even more difficult. President Donald Trump’s proposal favors more affluent taxpayers and would add considerably to the federal deficit.

The White House trumpets its proposal to almost double the standard deduction, from a maximum of $12,600 to $24,000. This would benefit many middle-income taxpayers and simplify the code by encouraging more people not to take itemized deductions.

But some of these families actually would face higher taxes if, as with earlier Trump and Republican plans, it also eliminates the personal exemption, currently $4,050 per person. It’s difficult to be precise since the plan lacks specifics on tax brackets where various rates would kick in.

Think of a middle-class couple with three kids. With the personal exemption gone, they’d have to add $20,250 to their taxable income. That’s nearly double the new “benefit” they’d get from the increase in their standard deduction of $11,400.

The personal exemption costs the government somewhere between $1.6 trillion and $1.9 trillion over 10 years, based on estimates of previous Trump and congressional Republican tax plans. That’s money that could offset other cuts if eliminated, or contribute to higher deficits if left in place.

Trump advisers insist that big cuts in tax rates would pay for themselves by generating strong economic growth, a highly speculative claim, to put it gently. They also claim they’d add revenue by eliminating most tax deductions, though not the politically popular write-offs for charitable contributions and home mortgage interest. But the plan doesn’t specify which deductions would go, citing only the ones for state and local taxes paid.

Don’t hold your breath. There are 35 Republican congressmen from the high-tax states of California, New York, New Jersey and Illinois, and some of them are already balking. With a 22-vote margin in the House of Representatives and with no Democratic support, Republican leaders will be dealing with some brutal arithmetic when it comes to eliminating state and local tax deductions.

Buy some more red ink.

The idea of ending the carried-interest loophole was pushed hard by Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign as he sought to establish his populist credentials. His advisers have run with that theme since last week, claiming they’re ready to end that special tax break, which lets hedge-fund and private-equity executives pay lower capital-gains rates instead of the regular rates on ordinary income.

But the Trump proposal would reduce the top corporate rate to 15 percent from 35 percent, meaning it would be lower than the maximum capital-gains rate. Since many hedge funds and private-equity firms are partnerships, their executives would qualify for the corporate rate under the administration plan. So ultimately their taxes on carried interest would be cut, not increased.

So much for populism.

Our View: Idaho needs full-day kindergarten

The Twin Falls School District is surveying parents this spring about whether they’d want their youngsters to attend full-day kindergarten.

That’s a rarity in Idaho, where the vast majority of districts provide only half-day instruction. In fact, the state doesn’t require students to attend kindergarten in any form before entering first grade. And Idaho funds only voluntary half-day programs.

Without a steady funding stream, districts who want to pursue full-day kindergarten are left to scramble for money through grants, parents and other means.

That’s a shame, because study after study has shown that students who attend full-day kindergarten fare better not only in first grade but throughout their academic careers.

According to the National Education Association, who analyzed academic studies on full-day kindergarten:

Students who attend full-day kindergarten are better in reading and math than students who go half a day.

Full-day kindergarten is especially beneficial for low-income and minority students.

Teachers who spend more time with full-day kindergartners are more likely to spot their students’ academic weaknesses and intervene early, before the student gets left behind.

Students do better in full-day programs because they’re given more time to focus on activities. (Half-day kindergarten teachers often complain they feel like there’s not enough time to cram in all the needed lessons in half-day programs.)

Although full-day kindergarten is typically more expensive to fund up front, it actually saves money in the long run. Studies show for every dollar spent, the state will save $3. That’s because full-day leads to lower grade retention and drop-out rates later in life.

Parents and teachers prefer it. The NEA cites a 2000 study that showed 100 percent of full-day parents and 72 percent of half-day parents would choose or continue to choose full-day kindergarten if their district provided a program.

Like a lot of issues in Idaho education these days, it comes down to cost. The state is only now restoring education funding levels to pre-recession figures, and that doesn’t account for the rapid population growth that has crammed even more kids into Idaho classrooms. The same amount of money plus more students means those dollars don’t stretch quite as far as they did in 2009.

So if the state can barely pay for the education system we have now, how in the world is it supposed to come up with more money to fund kindergarten?

Perhaps the bigger question is how can it afford not to?

Last year, Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter championed an $11.2 million “early intervention” program for students who hadn’t learned to read by third grade. We can’t help but wonder how many of those students wouldn’t be struggling had they attended full-day kindergarten. Rather than waiting until students are already behind, Idaho should be investing in students earlier, preventing the academic struggles from happening in the first place.

Several efforts have been made in recent years for Idaho to adopt a statewide public preschool program, an idea we’ve supported for many of the same reasons supported by early-education studies. But the state would be wise to adopt full-day kindergarten first.

Rep. Lance Clow, who represents Twin Falls and sits on the House Education Committee, has said he’d be interested in the Legislature taking up the debate over full-day kindergarten. But with the lawmakers facing elections next year, don’t bet on the Legislature adopting full-day kindergarten anytime soon. It would almost certainly require the state to raise taxes or cut other programs — something lawmakers try to avoid when they’re about to face voters in the election booth.

In the meantime, local districts are trying to get creative. In Murtaugh, as reporter Julie Wootton pointed out this week, youngsters have been attending full-day kindergarten for years. The program is financed by the district’s general budget, which amounts to paying a full-time teacher rather than a part-time teacher for the district’s only kindergarten class.

But in bigger districts like Twin Falls, the money is much harder to find. Full-day kindergarten has been offered at Lincoln Elementary in Twin Falls for struggling students, paid for by federal program money that’s about to run out. (In the full-day class, students’ reading scores have more than doubled since the beginning of the year.) Principals at the city’s other schools are now pursuing other funding programs that might help bring full-day kindergarten to more of the district’s schools.

The district is surveying parents to find out which schools have the most interest. Parents can phone their local schools to weigh in.

We encourage parents to get involved. Where there is a will, there is a way, after all, and schools will only get serious about offering full-day kindergarten when they know it’s what parents want.