OPINION: Idaho leans on fiscally conservative principles in coronavirus relief decisions

Tuesday June 9, 2020

By Governor Brad Little

Idaho was given the chance to once again demonstrate our fiscally conservative values when President Donald Trump and the U.S. Congress directed $1.25 billion to all the smaller states including Idaho in federal coronavirus relief dollars.

And we answered the call.

We are directing much of those funds back to our citizens and businesses rather than putting coronavirus relief funds toward government budgets.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was intended to mitigate the economic fallout of COVID-19. All our actions have been in lockstep with U.S. Treasury guidance for allocation of the funds.

Our economic rebound will occur more quickly if Idahoans have more of their hard-earned dollars in their pockets.

Earlier this week, I joined mayors, county commissioners, and my partners in the Legislature in announcing Idaho will leverage federal coronavirus relief funds to cover local public safety personnel salaries and ensure there are no reductions in public safety during these unprecedented challenges. At the same time, we are giving cities and counties the opportunity to pass on the savings to property taxpayers rather than backfilling local government budgets.

The move is expected to result in up to $200 million in one-time property tax relief. That could mean a 10- to 20-percent reduction in your property taxes this year. Meanwhile, the Legislature will continue to explore ongoing relief to property taxpayers.

Idaho also has led the country in our support of small businesses.

We directed a sizeable chunk of relief funds toward direct cash support to the self-employed and to businesses with under 50 employees.

We listened to businesses large and small, and we’re offering back-to-work bonuses to get folks off unemployment and back to work safely. As of today, 98-percent of Idaho businesses can open their doors and jobs are coming back, but businesses tell me they are having a hard time recruiting employees.

The back-to-work bonuses are based on a basic conservative principle articulated by President Ronald Reagan: “We should measure success by how many people leave welfare, not by how many are added.”

We don’t want people on unemployment, sitting at home collecting government checks. We want people working. Work strengthens not just the individual and their family, but all of society.

I believe the more than 145,000 Idahoans who filed an unemployment claim since March 1 want to work if they can do so safely. Most of them have never encountered the unemployment line.

But most Americans who are out of work due to coronavirus earn more with the enhanced unemployment benefit than their normal wages – a perk that is expected to expire July 31.

In seven weeks, the extra $600-per-week unemployment benefit goes away. The bonuses help folks get back to work sooner.

The back-to-work bonuses – $1,500 for full-time workers and $750 for part-time workers, paid out after they return to work – will help get our economy going again. That benefits us all, and it saves taxpayer dollars in the long run.

President Trump, White House officials, and Congressional Republicans are looking at similar programs on the federal level.

I understand the frustration on the part of those who reported to work throughout this time, putting their own health at risk performing services that we all needed. It was and continues to be a stressful time, but many of us are fortunate we didn’t have major disruptions in our jobs or income – unlike those who were forced to file for unemployment benefits. Unfortunately, the CARES Act does not allow bonuses to go to those who have kept their jobs, but we are looking other ways to help this group.

In Idaho, we advocate for low taxes, airtight budgets, transparency in government, and minimal regulations. The reason we can direct federal relief dollars back to the taxpayers is because all along we have governed conservatively – we put money into savings (rainy day accounts), we maintain a balanced budget, we don’t incur long-term debt for government operations, and we keep state agency budgets accountable and lean.

I’m proud of the citizens of Idaho for their collective efforts to effectively slow the spread of coronavirus in our state. With your continued support, our economic rebound will happen more quickly and more robustly than many other places in the country and the world.

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