Whatever Idahoans want, they’re not getting it — at least not from the people they elect to represent them in Boise.
So says the latest Boise State University Public Policy Survey.
For instance, Idahoans told BSU their top priorities are education, the economy and health care. On balance, the GOP spends a lot of its time talking about tax cuts and — at least at the national level — immigration.
Sure, you’re getting a lot of lip-service about how Republican governors and legislators have been boosting Idaho’s public education budgets. They’ve hardly repaired all the damage caused by spending cuts imposed during the Great Recession.
The state consistently ranks next to last in what it spends per student. Its high school graduation rates fall behind more than 40 other states. It’s having trouble recruiting and retaining teachers for what it’s willing to pay. And the state has made virtually no progress in getting more of its high school graduates to continue their education.
Yet, when lawmakers had the opportunity to do more last year, they preferred to cut taxes again by about $130 million.
So is it any surprise that 64.4 percent of Idahoans believe the quality of their schools is, at best, fair?
Is it really startling to hear that 60.7 percent think the schools are doing, at best, a fair job of preparing their kids to further their educations after high school?
What about health care?
For many in the GOP — including the people who wrote the state party’s platform — health care means thwarting the voters’ approval of Medicaid expansion.
How about early childhood education? Says BSU: More than 60 percent believe the state should increase spending for it — possibly because they know roughly half the kids show up unprepared for kindergarten.
Idaho remains among a half-dozen states that does nothing.
Then there is the idea of allowing cities to ask local voters for permission to impose local-option taxes. More than 61 percent told BSU they’re for it.
If anything, state legislators want to impose even more constraints on local government. They’ve already pre-empted communities from banning plastic bags or raising the minimum wage. Now there is talk of stopping them from even considering ordinances that direct drivers’ attention to the road and not on their cellphones.
Ask Idahoans about criminal justice reform and they’ll embrace the idea. In a low-crime state with overcrowded prisons, 55.8 percent indicated they’d support weaning Idaho of its mandatory minimum sentencing laws. Idaho’s right- and left-wings would agree, but the middle — particularly those in the state Senate — so far have refused to budge.
What about pushing Idaho toward more renewable energy as a response to climate change? That’s not a hard sell in a state that draws electricity from hydro and does not operate a single coal plant. Says BSU, 68.5 percent would support moving Idaho to 100 percent clean energy by 2050.
Then why did Gov. Brad Little draw such a big response by simply acknowledging climate change is real? Doesn’t that tell you something about the prevailing view of his party?
This disconnect between voters and politicians is not new.
Part of it is simply explained: BSU polls all Idaho adults. But the Idaho Republican Party dominates Idaho politics and the GOP is ruled by the sliver of partisan voters who cast ballots in its primary election.
But part of it is a pure mystery.
For instance, why would 36.5 percent of Idahoans tell BSU that the state doesn’t spend enough money — while only 8.3 percent think state taxes are too low?
You may have 68.5 percent embracing green energy, but support falls off to 55.6 percent if it means increasing their power bills?
While they agree with giving judges complete discretion over sentencing, 71.1 percent then turned around and said they supported setting limits on minimum and maximum prison terms.
People may want the option to approve local taxes, but they’re more reluctant to pay them.
Even early childhood education loses steam if it means raising taxes — only 54.2 percent said yes.
Some of that makes sense. People are making trade-offs.
But how do you explain a group of people who say their schools are substandard, that their politicians have the wrong priorities and want the state to move along another path who then tell BSU, by a margin of 59.4 percent, that their state is heading in the right direction?
Pass the aspirin. — M.T.