KUSTRA OFF THE MARK IN HIS ATTACK ON IDAHO FREEDOM FOUNDATION
By Fred Birnbaum
When Bob Kustra attacks the Idaho Freedom Foundation and others on the “far-right,” I wish he would try harder. He needs to dust off his research skills if he wants to make his claims stick.
Kustra, the former Boise State University president who launched the university’s leftward lurch, recently attacked IFF and businessman Larry Williams in one article for supposedly costing Sens. Jeff Agenbroad, Carl Crabtree, and Jim Woodward their Republican primary re-election bids.
Kustra’s outrage centers on Williams’ support of House Bill 545, a measure that would have provided a revolving loan fund for charter schools. The Idaho House passed the measure on a 68-to-1 vote, but the bill couldn’t clear the Senate Education Committee.
In that committee, Crabtree and Woodward partnered with Senate Democrats and establishment Republicans to kill the measure. Agenbroad, while not on the committee, testified against it.
Williams, an ardent charter school advocate, donated to the GOP primary challengers who eventually ousted Crabtree, Woodward, and Agenbroad.
Kustra bemoans the loss of budgeting experience he believes that trio brought to the Idaho Senate as they all held seats on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, the joint panel that sets state budgets during each legislative session.
All three men have voted to hike All Funds government spending well beyond inflation and population growth. Woodward’s tenure included four budget cycles and Agenbroad and Crabtree six budget cycles each. They have one thing in common: They rarely voted against appropriation bills. When it comes to fiscal issues their voting is largely indistinguishable from Democrats.
During Woodward’s tenure, the All Funds original appropriations have grown from just under $9 billion in fiscal year 2020 (FY20) to nearly $13 billion in FY23. The actual increase is 44% over those fiscal years.
The increase in Agenbroad and Crabtree’s tenures in All Funds spending is more than 63% from FY18-23.
You may have read that the Idaho Health Data Exchange (IHDE) recently filed for bankruptcy.
The IDHE’s business model was to modernize health data sharing. In addition to privacy concerns, many legislators objected to the ongoing price tag. Despite payments of over $20 million from taxpayers to IHDE, the failed exchange now owes creditors about $4 million. The relevancy is that in 2020 these three Senators voted in favor of Senate Bill 1393 to give IDHE another $16 million. Unlike H545, there was spirited floor debate in opposition to this give-away and ultimately 6 Senators and 28 House members voted no.
In 2021, the trio voted for S1204, the bill that accepted over $1 billion of federal American Rescue Plan Act money. The bill says, “ARPA funds are borrowed from our grandchildren. To the extent allowable under law, the state should make long-range investments with ARPA funds that will benefit our grandchildren.”
Notwithstanding the language they voted for with this bill, they voted in the 2022 session to use ARPA funds for bonuses for public school staff with SB1404 (Crabtree was absent for the floor vote, but he voted for it in JFAC) and for arts grants with SB1391.
Borrowing money from our grandchildren to fund bonuses and arts projects hardly sounds like long-range investments. And it’s certainly not conservative.
And let’s talk about Medicaid, a program that has exploded with a 77% increase from FY18 to 23. During the 2022 session, in JFAC, Rep.Ron Nate proposed a substitute budget motion that would have trimmed the request from $4.045 billion to $3.846 billion, a modest step in the right direction. All three opposed this modest reduction in the growth of Medicaid.
And we can’t let Kustra’s pious description of how JFAC operates pass without comment.
Contra Kustra’s assertion that deep due diligence is done during the budget process, it is rather a very orchestrated affair. Most budget motions pass without dissenting votes or with just a couple of dissenting votes. And the budget process is geared toward examining new spending, and excludes a review of the ongoing spending which accounts for about 90% of the budget.
Unlike Bob Kustra, the Idaho Freedom Foundation carefully combs through the budget every year. When we criticize certain legislators based on their record, we have actually examined the totality of it, not just one small bill.