During my time in the Idaho Legislature, I’ve been asked “what’s your Freedom Foundation score?” Some years I’m in the 90s and some years I'm in the 70s. I’m then asked, “why don’t you have a 100%?” My answer is simple; “because the Freedom Foundation isn’t always right, and I favor conservative principles over libertarian ideals.”
My point in writing this article is not to criticize the Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF), nor to defend them. People need to understand why I do not always agree with their analysis. As a conservative, I’ve come to learn that it is OK to have a difference of opinion and no one individual or organization owns what it means to be a conservative.
During this last legislative session, I proposed HB690, a bill that would’ve provided up to $80 million in property tax relief annually. The bill took surplus money from the state and used it to lower the cities’ and counties' levy rates. The bill passed the house but did not get a hearing in the senate. This bill was rated negatively by the IFF because it “encouraged” cities and counties to pay down debt and did not require they cut their budgets. The IFF testified that if they paid down debt, it would be easier for them to get into more debt. Consequently, I received a negative point because I voted to reduce property taxes by using surplus money to reduce the levy rates and provide actual property tax relief.
HB548 set up a system to ensure people can’t cheat by obtaining multiple homeowners’ exemptions. When individuals do that, it shifts the burden to others, resulting in higher property taxes for law-abiding individuals. Because HB548 allowed the Tax Commission to track exemptions and share data with the Secretary of State it “increased the size” of government and was therefore rated negatively. From a libertarian perspective, they are correct; but as one who believes in the conservative principle of fairness and rule of law, I voted to prevent people from cheating, and therefore I received a negative score.
As a conservative, I also believe in a good education system with fairly compensated teachers. Currently, teachers don’t participate in the state’s health insurance program. HB443 allowed them to join the state’s program. Because Idaho is self-funded, the districts need the fund to “buy in”. The IFF rated this bill negatively because it expands government and increases spending. Again, I would agree with the IFF that the bill costs money and expands government. But Idaho’s constitution requires the legislature to fund education. Providing health insurance to teachers and providing funding for education is a conservative value I support.
I find value in reading the IFF’s bills analysis just like I find value in the Farm Bureau, Food Producers, Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, and even the Association of Idaho Cities analysis. However, the IFF does not own conservatism, nor are they the final arbiter of whether or not legislation is conservative.
Sometimes, the right thing to do is to expand government so we can identify and regulate drugs. Sometimes the right thing to do is to create programs to prevent people from claiming multiple homeowners’ exemptions. Sometimes the right thing to do is to spend more money on education. Sometimes the right thing to do is to use surplus state funds to cut property taxes. And sometimes the right thing to do is to vote for what I believe is a conservative value even when the IFF says otherwise.