Thursday, May 23, 2024

Little: Idaho kicking butt

Staff Writer | December 1, 2021 1:07 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — When Brad Little became Idaho’s governor in 2019, he had a primary goal: Keep Idaho’s kids in Idaho.

So he told the Legislature and his staff, “Everything we do is to create the best possible environment for kids to choose to stay here,” he said Tuesday in Coeur d'Alene.

Then, he added with a smile, “And we're getting really good at it. Now everybody else's kids want to stay here.”

The crowd of about 175 laughed at that comment as they listened to the governor’s “Address to the Business Community,” presented by the Coeur d’Alene Regional Chamber.

Speaking at the Hagadone Event Center on a gray day, Little said kids are staying and those who left are returning — if they find a house due to the area's strong growth.

The reason they’re coming back, Little said, is that the state is shining in several areas.

Little said Idaho is the least regulated state, No. 1 in state revenue growth, third in total economic growth, was recently ranked first for credit worthiness and just received its first triple-A bond rating.

“For the bankers in the room it’s the typical deal. When you need to borrow money, everybody is reluctant,” Little said. “But when you don’t need to borrow money, they all love you.”

Idaho is prepared for a downturn should it happen, Little said.

“We're one of the fastest states to recover from COVID, particularly (compared) to our next door neighbors here, across the line,” he said, in a shot at Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

Little thanked Idaho businesses for their actions during the pandemic.

“It was grit and fortitude, the innovation, the hard work, that you did,” he said.

Little said Idaho’s growth is “a testament to the free enterprise system that allows smart businesses, large and small, to do the right thing and put us in the position we're in right now.”

“It really was a collective of will and kind of the DNA of Idaho that we don't overspend, we don't default, don’t regulate, we don't default over taxation. When we come to a fork in the road, we kind of do what a small business or a family would do.”

He said that because of the efforts of his predecessors, the state enjoyed a record budget surplus last year, another this year and is looking at an even bigger one next year.

But key, Little said, is what Idaho has done with that money.

He cited the largest tax cut in history, a rebate of 9%; and record investments in K-12, about 12% last year, about 29% this year.

“We’re going to put more money into literacy. We’re going to put more money into teacher pay. I know how challenging it is here with your proximity to Washington and what the pay scale is over there. We're catching up with them,” he said. “But we're still not catching up with them fast enough to keep our very best students here, teaching in Idaho. We're gonna make another big down payment on that."

He said he wants to create the best pipeline for businesses to get the labor they need.

"That decision for somebody graduating from NIC or the University of Idaho, or fill in the blank, to come and teach here in Idaho is going to be easier going forward," he said.

Little called on people to be involved in their community and cited a lesson he learned in his cattle days: “If you're not at the table in the discussion about policy, there's a good chance you're on the menu.”

A few laughed.

“Somebody got my joke,” he said, smiling.

The state's success starts at the local level, Little said.

"We need to empower the locals, we need to support the locals," he said.

"It is your responsibility," Little continued. "I'm not lecturing you. I'm just telling you what I see.

"Participation is awfully important in our democratic republic."