Governor Little prioritizes Idaho through new policy initiatives

Brad Little speaks to the legislature on the first day of the legislative session in the House Chambers of the Idaho State Capitol building. Photo credit: Abigayl Finch

Governor Brad Little discussed policy priorities for his second term and highlighted accomplishments from his first term in his Jan. 9 state of the state address at the Idaho State Capitol.

His goals for the next four years centered on his “Idaho First” program, investing in areas such as public education, tax relief and local infrastructure.

Improving Idaho education

Little announced plans for the Idaho Launch Scholarship, which would give $8,500 to every Idahoan student graduating from school in Idaho to attend an Idaho university, community college, career technical or workforce training program of their choice.

“There are many pathways to success in Idaho’s economy, and all pathways deserve our support,” Little said. “No matter what path a student chooses, we are making it easier for them to get the advanced training they need to propel themselves and Idaho’s economy forward.”

The Idaho Launch Scholarship is the single largest investment in career technical and workforce education in state history. Little hopes the program will incentivize Idahoans to stay in Idaho and entice those who left the state to return.

“We want Idaho students brought up in Idaho schools working at Idaho jobs,” Little said.

Little also plans to invest in Idaho education by making the “Empowering Parents” grant permanent. According to the program’s website, the grant provides families with money to use on education services and devices, such as laptops and calculators, to help students recover from pandemic-caused learning loss.

According to the National Education Association, Idaho ranked 23rd in teacher starting pay in 2022. The governor proposed plans to raise Idaho teachers’ starting salaries to get Idaho to the top 10 in each respective area by the end of his second term.

As part of his Idaho First program, Little suggested the need to raise teacher pay more generally, implementing a plan that would raise salaries by $6,300.

“When we show teachers we support them, we’re showing families that their children’s education is our priority,” Little said.

Cutting taxes

Idaho has been performing well economically in several areas including economic momentum, revenue growth, job growth, economic outlook and strong fiscal policy.

The state gave back $2.7 billion to Idaho citizens and businesses. This surplus was divided into four categories:

— Slashing payroll taxes for small businesses

— Increasing the grocery tax credit

— Reimbursing property taxes

— Distributing income tax rebates and tax cuts for personal and corporate income taxes

“Cutting taxes keeps our business climate competitive, allows Idahoans to keep more of what they earn and is just the right thing to do,” Little said.

Developing local infrastructure

The governor said a burden many Idahoans face is property taxes. Little offered an unconventional solution to relieve this: Investing in local infrastructure.

Little recalled projects to fix bridges in counties throughout Idaho. He called for congress to continue investing in roads and water by increasing water quality and quantity as well as funding to increase transportation safety and capacity.

“We can’t cut beyond the level of services Idahoans demand, and we must not use our one-time surplus for wasteful spending,” Little said. “Given the economic volatility on the near horizon, this may be our one last shot in the near future to make significant tax cuts that will sustain a balanced budget over time.”

The Idaho First program also highlights new projects and the continuance of programs already being implemented including:

— Improve resources for troubled youth in mental health crises and make investments in behavioral health services

— Add more doctors and healthcare workers in rural Idaho

— Increase Idaho law enforcement officers’ salaries by 10% or $6,000

— Inform Idaho youth about the dangers of fentanyl, its accessibility and its potency through the Fentanyl Takes All program.

Little closed his speech by stating the importance of prioritizing Idahoan values.

“It’s easy to be cynical about government when you see what’s happening in Washington D.C.and other dysfunctional states throughout the country, but it’s also easy to be inspired about the real difference we are making in Idaho when we put Idaho first,” Little said.

Legislative Response

Britt Raybould, one of the congressmen representing Madison county, left the speech with high hopes.

“I believe his focus on investing in education, infrastructure and other long-term projects like restoring East Idaho’s aquifer, matters for the future success of our state,” Raybould said. “The more we can strengthen our foundation when we have the resources, the better we can weather the challenges we’ll face in the future.”

Many of the policy proposals scheduled for the next four years will be felt right here in Rexburg.

“In addition to increased funding for our public schools, we’ll also see two critical infrastructure projects that fix the issues with the two Highway 20 interchanges south of town over on Highway 33,” Raybould said. “We also can expect to see an investment of broadband dollars as the city and county work to increase access to high-speed internet.”