This op-ed was written by Russ Fulcher and was originally posted here.
I read with interest an Idaho Statesman headline April 15: “Idaho unemployment rate falls to 3.8 percent.” Sounds good, right? Well, whatever database this information comes from is at best misleading.
Here is the truth as validated by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare: As of 2014, 20.2 percent of Idahoans are on some sort of public assistance. And here is a little more “truth” as validated by the Bureau of Economic Analysis: In 2015 Idaho ranked 48th out of America’s 50 states as having the lowest per capita income in the nation.
So, if some report is out there claiming that only 3.8 percent of Idaho citizens are out of work, it fails to point out the fact that many of the other 96.2 percent are either underemployed or they’ve simply stopped looking for work altogether. Bottom line is that a 3.8 percent unemployment rate makes the situation sound good, when in reality it is not.
Over recent years, Idaho has continually transitioned from a resource-based economy of logging, mining, agribusiness, etc., to more of a service-based economy. But true wealth creation comes from the appropriate management and utilization of resources, not trading haircuts. Thanks to government constraints on the use of our resources, Idahoans are left mainly with service-based jobs. The result: Idahoans may have work, but they are fiscally poor.
Whoever controls our resources controls our economic destiny. Today, the federal government owns and regulates 62 percent of the land within Idaho’s borders. Add to that the use constraints on remaining land by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and the Endangered Species Act, and the impact on Idahoans is devastating. An appropriate analogy of an Idaho worker’s competitive position on the worldwide stage would be to imagine a boxer entering the ring with one arm tied behind his back while hopping on one leg. Oh, and one more thing: In addition to the negative impact of government resource control on our personal income, there are other ramifications, such as record-level carbon emissions into the atmosphere due to wildfires on unmanaged land.
Until policymakers start implementing sanity into land-management practices, high-paying job opportunities will continue to languish. Current practices leave access to land limited, animals dead, pollution rampant and Idahoans poor.
Idaho has within its borders resources of limitless potential. Intelligent, balanced, local management can provide sustainable positive results for stakeholders from all walks of life. And although the massive federal debt is a tragedy, it just might be the factor that eventually forces a transition of land management from Washington, D.C., to Idaho. The feds can’t afford to continue current failed policies of our resources forever. Plus, sooner or later Eastern states will get tired of sending many of their federal tax dollars to Idaho and other Western states in the form of PILT (payment in lieu of taxes) payments.
One day, Idahoans will control their resources. And when that happens, our environment will improve and our economy will prosper.
Russ Fulcher is former majority caucus chairman of the Idaho Senate. He currently has a commercial real estate business.
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