New Report on Government Waste in Idaho Should Stop any Tax Increase

David Williams

January 27, 2012

Even though most of the high profile budget battles often occur in Washington, D.C., the states are where the most intense budget battles take place.  Many states are mandated to balance their budgets so deficits and debt are not an option.  A typical reaction to a state budgetary shortfall is to raise taxes.  For example, the state of Idaho may be considering a tax increase of $1.25 per pack of cigarettes as a way to generate more revenue.  A recent report by the Idaho Freedom Foundation, “2012 Idaho Report on Government Waste,” has another idea:  cut spending.  From union contract shenanigans to taxpayer-subsidized transportation, the report is 120 pages of eye-opening detail of government waste in Idaho.

To do a comprehensive blog posting of all of the examples of waste identified in the report would take up too much space, but I do want to highlight some examples:

 

  • “In April 2011, Boise handed out $19,265 in taxpayer funds to pretty-up some traffic boxes around the downtown area. City Council President MaryAnne Jordan defended the spending, saying that the boxes are good for the local economy. ‘It’s sort of an economic development tool,’ she explained. ‘We can all agree that clean, attractive and vibrant cities are more inviting to businesses.’

 

  • Several school districts, including Gem County, Lake Pend O’Reille, Council, Lakeland, Middleton, Parma, Potlatch and Moscow, among others, allow teachers to attend to union business with pay for a few days each school year.  Even worse is that in some of these areas, teachers are paid full salary and districts are left to pay the wages of classrooms substitute

 

  • The city of Pocatello’s urban renewal agency, perhaps believing that cleanliness is next to godliness, decided to invest some taxpayer cash in clean. The agency funneled $100,000 in a project to help open the Museum of Clean, now located in that southeast Idaho town.

 

  • Judging by news reports and comments from state leaders, the Idaho state budget is full of cuts and trims that affect everyone. But, during lean times, many in state government are still getting their bonuses. The one part of state government where bonuses are glaring is in the Legislative Services Office (LSO), which offers support for lawmakers.  At the end of the last budget year, LSO paid bonuses topping $1,200 to 59 employees. The $94,633 given out is almost 42 percent of bonuses given out to state employees in that budget.

 

  • Though his school district has taken steep cuts to budgets and programs in the past two years at the state level, Bonneville School District No. 93 Superintendent Charles Shackett still has a contract filled with taxpayer-funded perks, including a yearly $15,000 signing bonus. According to Shackett’s contract, signed in February 2011, he receives $7,500 in extra money for retirement, $17,000 in incentives and bonuses, and a car to use at his discretion. The superintendent also receives five paid days off each year to conduct private consulting activities.  The benefits are in addition to his $104,000 yearly pay. His base salary puts him near the bottom of the pack among superintendents of districts with more than 5,000 students, though the perks added in to the figure put him in a near tie as the fourth highest-paid superintendent in the state.

 

  • While we already have misgivings about the unemployment program in Idaho and nationally, costly mistakes just make the situation worse. According to a report released by the U.S. Department of Labor, Idaho paid about $82 million in improper unemployment benefits between July 2008 and June 2011. Many of the erroneous payments, 34 percent, were made to recipients who returned to work but continued receiving money. Another 34 percent of payments went to citizens with ‘work search issues,’ meaning that the department was unable ‘to validate that the individual has met the state’s work search requirements, which disqualifies the claimant from being eligible for benefits.’”

State legislators should be embarrassed to ask for any type of tax increase considering the amount of waste, fraud, and abuse marbled throughout the state budget.  Real budget reform comes from fiscal discipline and not being lazy by raising taxes.