By Sen. Melissa Witntrow, D-Boise
Special to the Reader
What if you were hanging on the edge of a cliff and your friend leaned down and started rapping hard on your fingers, at the same time telling you it will be alright? Unfortunately, that’s what some Idaho politicians are doing to citizens who are trying to access vital services in this pandemic to keep from completely falling off the edge of a financial cliff.
In fact, in the face of unprecedented revenue surpluses, last week Gov. Brad Little proposed a tax cut, spending on transportation and an inappreciable tip of the hat to education, instead of investing in our state and our citizens when we need it most. There was no specific mention about how we can support teachers stretched beyond capacity, nor on how to support the strain on our health care system beyond trying to bribe unmasked Idahoans to take heed and do the right thing or their tax cuts will be eaten up in the health care system. There was also no clarification about who would be receiving a tax cut, leaving Idahoans worrying that they’ll be paying more taxes to supplement for additional cuts for the wealthiest taxpayers.
I won’t ask politicians to read between the lines, I will spell it out: We need to invest in our hospitals, Medicaid, medical workers, health care system and housing preservation. I have heard politicians propose gutting Medicaid expansion when it has already saved lives and saved money! Hospitals are on the brink of rationing care due to the rising number of COVID cases because we can’t require a simple facial covering and limit social gatherings to reduce strain on the system and reduce financial costs. Yet those same people are discussing how they can cut vital health care for our front line workers at a time we need health care the most!
Nothing screams crisis like hospitals being forced to decide who gets lifesaving care and who doesn’t, but Idaho Republicans tap a little harder on your fingers and put a BandAid on a gusher. It looks like the governor will ask the Legislature to slash the state’s budget again despite another revenue surplus. Those cuts mean fewer services, longer lines, reduced customer service, less access to the things you need. After cutting vital spending across agencies last year and earlier this year, state agencies are hanging on by a thread and so are our citizens. I have been getting emails from people who can barely make a living, pay the rent, or find medical care, especially those elderly folks in independent living situations who can’t find in-home services due to the nursing shortage and wage crisis.
Health care, education, medical resources, criminal justice and other vital services will be on the chopping block once again. Excessive budget cuts, a revenue surplus, increased federal funding and an uncontrolled pandemic have not convinced the Republican leadership to invest in programs that keep Idahoans healthy, improve our economic resilience, prepare students for a competitive workforce, and save lives.
The Idaho Legislature is hoarding taxpayer dollars in the rainy day fund while asking Idahoans to keep hanging on; help will be on the way, someday…
The dollars in the General Fund are our tax dollars that the Legislature should use to reinvest in our communities when we need it most. We currently have $600 million in estimated excess revenue, $630 million in rainy day and reserve funds, more than $100 million sequestered in the internet sales tax fund and, after a CFAC decision this week, $150 million more freed up in the General Fund from federal reimbursements for public health and safety.
The Idaho health care system is on the brink of crisis and falling off the cliff; Republican politicians need to stop rapping on our fingers and find ways to help us, not make more cuts or spend in the wrong places. Idaho will not be safer with fewer medical staff, fewer people insured, fewer hospital resources and more people homeless. Schools will not be able to get students up to speed after this tumultuous year if they don’t have enough teachers and cut other education resources from their paper-thin funding.
Idahoans are hanging on for dear life, and Republican politicians need to do more than strategize better ways to push us off the edge of the cliff. We need to invest in our citizens and lend a hand up in this overwhelming crisis.
Sen. Melissa Wintrow represents Boise District 19, Seat B, as a Democrat.
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