BIO: Mr. Macomber is a land-use and real estate attorney in Coeur d’Alene running against Luke Malek (R-Coeur d’Alene) in the May 17 Republican primary for the House District 4A position.
There were major battles in the Idaho legislature in 2016, including the permitless carry bill which passed, and the continuing drive for Medicaid expansion, which failed. Approximately 320 bills were introduced in the House, and 235 in the Senate, each chamber considering just over 60 appropriations bills. The House Joint Resolution 5 was adopted to cement in Idaho’s Constitution the legislative veto power over executive branch (IDAPA) (Idaho Administrative Procedure Act) rules. In the 2014 general election, I helped defeat the poorly worded IDAPA-related constitutional amendment, and then I rewrote it properly and sent it to Scott Bedke and both State Affairs Committee Chairs in early January, 2016.[i] Because of the adoption of HJR5, a constitutionally sound amendment confirming the legislative veto will appear on the 2016 general election ballot. After I am elected, I can really begin the hard work for my constituents and the State of Idaho!
There will always be issues to fight over, but all Idahoans hope the law becomes easier to understand and less costly to administer and enforce. Of the hundreds of bills that are considered each year, there are three issues facing Idaho that I consider to be paramount. If elected, I will work hard to share my perspective with legislators.
My approach to government is structural. Any doctor analyzing a patient will look at the whole body, its capabilities, and what might reasonably be done to reach a healthier state given its present condition. Idaho is a Republic, and it is a State within a larger Republic the design of which promotes and protects individual freedom and the property rights that are necessary to exercise that freedom. Idaho’s present sickly and emaciated condition makes a tough patient.
In the early 1900s, Idaho was one of the wealthiest States in the union. One hundred years later, 36% of Idaho’s budget is federal funds, about one in five Idahoans is on food stamps, and we have little capability to exercise Idaho’s independent sovereignty. We are as a State almost wholly dependent on federal welfare, which is in reality a string of zeros added to a ledger as debt for our grandchildren to pay. Federal debt levels are pushing $20 trillion, and it is clear that with less than 2% annualized growth in our national economy the present financial situation is unsustainable. I don’t think it’s unfair to say Idaho is on federal life support.
In addition, most of us were raised after World War II with levels of prosperity unknown to all history. When I pressed CEO Bob Baker of Heritage Health, a community health center in Coeur d’Alene on his business plans for revenue after federal funds were cut, he told me, “Art, I do not believe that federal funds will ever stop coming.” This diseased belief is widespread amongst Idaho decision-makers. I have labeled its debilitating addictive power “D.O.P.E.,” which stands for Destruction of Other People’s Earnings. Unfortunately, those “other people” are our children and grandchildren. Our present federal and State expenditures are immoral and unethical, because our leaders are addicted to D.O.P.E.
These fiscal issues cannot be ignored. Idaho needs to take a long, hard look in the mirror, and then take a long-hard view into the future. Idaho needs to build a stronger economy so it can stand on its own two feet, and resume its position as a check on federal power. One hundred years of growth of the federal power relatively unchecked has led America breathtakingly close to the undermining of our property rights and freedom.
In my view, there are three paramount issues that must be tackled in the next 15 or 20 years. If we fail to address them, and it will very likely take 15 to 20 years to address them well, the strong odds are that we will lose our Republic. I do not think this perspective is either conjecture or delusion, but a hard, clear-eyed view of reality. It is time to change course.
The top three issues facing the State of Idaho are (1) Idaho’s addiction to federal dollars, (2) fiscal and regulatory impediments to the growth of Idaho’s economy, and (3) the federal lands issue. Like a good doctor, I will proceed with discussion of root causes, which means we must consider these issues in reverse order.
- Federal lands issue. Sixty-three percent (63%) of the land inside Idaho’s borders is owned by the federal government. Since the furor of quasi-religious, bi-coastal environmentalism has essentially shut down Idaho’s mining and forestry industries, we have lost the ability to utilize Idaho’s natural resources to generate the economy which allows us to have a surplus. This fact, in turn, requires we remain dependent on federal dollars. This means we cannot independently pay for minimal police power requirements of a sovereign State, much less the welfare requirements demanded by the post-World War II generations who demand increasing State support for their daily sustenance. In addition to increased services for the truly indigent, Idahoans who believe the money never stops demand healthcare, disability coverage, feeding of their children at school, and a State unionized worker bureaucracy requiring unprecedented levels of benefits. None of these fiscal demands are sustainable.
My long-term solution is to save the patient, which I define as the federalist structure of our interlocking State and federal republics under the United States’ and Idaho Constitutions. It is in the interests of both Idaho and the Federal Republic to disengage their mutual fiscal dependency, and there are various ways to address Idaho’s addiction to federal dollars. Yes, there will be pain. However, I think we can move forward within a couple of decades given our present condition, and avoid the type of pain that may occur if we lose the Republic.
The first step is to have the federal government enter into a 10 to 20 year agreement with the State of Idaho to lower Idaho’s percentage of federal lands to below 20%. This twenty percent number is arbitrary, but I believe it is a good start. Most of the States east of the Mississippi have less than 2% of their land under federal ownership, so I believe a 20% target in Idaho over ten to twenty years is a reasonable beginning. We certainly cannot take title to all of it at once, and there are certain jewels, like the Frank Church Wilderness, the Craters of the Moon National Monument, and other federal treasures that should be saved. There is a smart way to do it.
Unlike some, I don’t believe over the long term that simple management of federal lands is sufficient, because a significant amount of the federal lands now in Idaho must be privatized to bring them to their highest and best economic use. This requires a change to private title ownership. I believe there are methods of approach that leverage existing economic interests, such as BLM grazing leases, where transfers of title could be fairly easily effectuated to instantly increase the tax base of the State of Idaho while keeping the lands under productive economic activity. Instead of limiting our discussion to how well the State of Idaho manages lands compared to federal managers, I think the discussion should be about how private managers more effectively manage the land than public managers.
The environmental and agricultural interests may scream and howl, but I am looking to save Idaho, because without this Republic both the environment and Idaho’s agricultural prowess will not survive. Idahoans are smart and will adapt, but it is time for the patient to enter the operating room for some necessary surgery. This is not a time for halfway measures.
- Fiscal and Regulatory Impediments to Idaho’s Economic Growth. Idaho cannot wait for a transfer of federal lands and the resulting increase in private economic activity to generate the taxes Idaho needs today. Therefore, the second issue is to address specific types of economic incentives we could use to stimulate Idaho’s economy now.
The first thing we need to do is to stop depending on our local smart friends using tax money, urban renewal districts, and other government-driven schemes to stimulate economic growth. Rather than pin our hopes and dreams on crony capitalism using taxpayer funds, we need to alter the general economic environment. This will lift all boats, bring necessary capital out from under the mattresses, and give every free man and woman in Idaho the chance to pursue their small business dreams without specialized government approvals.
To help the truly poor immediately, the grocery tax should be eliminated. My competitor in this primary race, Luke Malek has stated publicly his reluctance to eliminate the tax, because he says the Idaho Tax Commission cannot quantify the amount of revenue attributable to the grocery tax, stating he has heard numbers between 15 million and $60 million a year. Mr. Malek is living in a black and white world, because he is conceptualizing the problem as if we will turn off the tax like a light switch. This is a result of his lack of private sector experience. A manageable transition is more prudent. There are ways to identify individual products, product classes, and commercial locations where food is sold to structure that transition. If Mr. Malek had ever dug ditches, he would not shrink from hard work.
Idaho should lower its personal income taxes in two-tenths of a percent increments for a period of ten years, the target being to lower the highest rate from 7.4% to 5.4%. Also, Idaho could lower the number of brackets over the same period to approach if not reach a flat tax environment. Further, and since corporate income tax rates are merely passed through to long-suffering consumers, Idaho should plan for complete elimination of the corporate income tax within 10 years.
Finally, there are two areas where excessive regulation is choking Idaho’s ability to grow its economy. The first is in so-called “land-use planning” by government entities, primarily cities and counties, and the sheer number of IDAPA rules used by Governor Otter’s executive branch.
Land-use planning is an egregious violation of private property rights, except for the police power enforcement of health, safety, and prevention of nuisance. When cities and counties tell landowners what types of trees to plant, or what types of uses are acceptable beyond firmly entrenched zoning designations, investment in Idaho is significantly deterred or eliminated. In addition, government entities have no market information upon which to base their economic planning schemes, and the chances of large-scale failure are magnified, as opposed to when each property owner maintains his rights to use.
Today, there are 722 separate sets of IDAPA rules used by Gov. Otter’s office. There is no law in Idaho requiring they ever be reviewed. These rules constitute a thicket of brambles warding off financial investment in Idaho. The legislature should pass a statute requiring a yearly review of all the rules within each department, so that they can be kept current or eliminated. The sovereign State of Idaho acts like the worst economic monopoly, because these encrusted barnacles slow the ship of State, and consequently Idaho’s economy to a crawl. Changing the general economic landscape by reducing and eliminating administrative rules will go a long way toward encouraging investment Idaho desperately needs to grow.
- Dependence on federal dollars. Idaho must face the truth: we are a welfare State. The first step to curing an addiction is to recognize the problem. Idaho needs to reduce our dependence on federal dollars. Let’s stop pretending we get back any portion of what we pay federal taxes. Idahoans send their federal taxes to Washington, then Washington spends every last cent, and then when Idaho makes a request for funds the federal government adds zero’s to the end of a ledger for our grandchildren to pay as debt.
My solution to the issue is to provide general and widespread incentives to Idaho’s private economy, so that we can generate enough funds that we are not dependent on federal money to run our State. Governor Otter signs new laws with Idaho’s motto, esto perpetua, but letting it be eternal (as the Latin translates) is now too passively insufficient. We have to take positive and meaningful steps to ensure Idaho’s perpetuation today.