The Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry has built its reputation for lobbying — usually successfully — on tax and business issues.
On Wednesday, the group did nothing for its reputation. It jumped into the governor's race, fronting a sleazy and gloom-mongering Internet and robocall campaign.
IACI's Idaho Prosperity Fund said Democratic gubernatorial candidate Keith Allred would willingly pile up $82 million of debt, by spending dollars Idaho won't have. I got one of the robocalls Wednesday night; it didn't disrupt dinner, but neither did it pass the smell test.
IACI's coup de grace is a website called, not too subtly, www. allredink.com.
Reads the site: "Keith Allred has the same kind of budget agenda that Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are using to bankrupt our nation with reckless spending, government takeovers and crushing debt. If Keith Allred has his way, he’ll put Washington-style government right here in our backyard!"
Some quality guilt by association there.
The facts are more nuanced. The $82 million in question centers on spending for the 2010-11 budget year, which opens July 1. Allred maintains the 2010-11 budget should have been built on more optimistic revenue forecasts crafted by state economist Mike Ferguson; Gov. Butch Otter and the Legislature rejected that idea and wrote essentially a flat budget.
Allred is sticking with his criticism, even though April tax collections are expected to fall $55 million shy of forecasts. In that sense, IACI's website is right: "The numbers are in." April wasn't good, and because it reflects income tax returns, it is an important month in the 2009-10 budget year.
But how do the April figures inform the budget decisions for 2010-11? That's where IACI's doom-and-gloom "the numbers are in" pronouncement falls apart.
Sales taxes and individual income tax withholdings were up. Even Otter, while defending his austere budgeting approach, offered a somewhat optimistic read of the April numbers. "I have no doubt that our economy is headed in the right direction. However, April’s tax filings largely still reflect what was happening with the economy last year – not over these past few months of marginally improving conditions."
Not surprisingly, Allred spun the argument a little differently. He was quick to defend the Legislature's hold-the-line approach for 2009-10 — a fact seemingly lost on IACI — but used the April numbers as another opportunity to criticize Otter's 2010-11 budget: "Viewing policy decisions for next year based on last year’s income tax returns is like trying to drive by looking in the rearview mirror," he said in a statement. "In contrast, the ongoing trend of higher-than-expected sales tax revenue tells us that we need a major course correction."
IACI chief Alex LaBeau is standing behind his assertions; "We’ve got to go back and check what his numbers were," he told the Associated Press. "But right now, the information we have is what we double-checked. And we were very thorough about that.”
But Allred struck a chord with his response to the IACI blitz, saying it "speaks to the worst in us, not the best."
It also assumes the worst about the economy — and Idaho's ability to pay for schools and other needed programs. Some message from the self-proclaimed "voice of business in Idaho."