DAIRY EMERGES AS IDAHO'S BEST-KEPT SECRET
Times-News (Twin Falls)
Dairy is the next potato. And it's time to treat it that way.
Idaho is ranked third behind California and Wisconsin for production of milk and cheese.
According to a 2008 study by the Boise State University College of Business and Economics, the annual revenue from the sale of dairy products has exceeded the annual revenue from the sale of potatoes in Idaho since 1997. In 2004, the sale of dairy products surpassed the revenue from the sale of meat animals and is now the largest single source of revenue of any agricultural product in the state.
When House Speaker Scott Bedke addressed the Idaho Chamber Alliance in January, he said that dairy is Idaho's "vein to mine."
But who, outside of Idaho, knows this?
Ask anyone across the country about Idaho and they'll say "Idaho potatoes." The Idaho Potato Commission has done and continues to do an incredible job marketing our potatoes. Meanwhile, Idaho dairy is our best kept secret.
As the main driver of the dairy industry in Idaho, the Magic Valley has an obligation to do something about that. We have a great product, but no branding. What kind of business thrives and grows that way?
Our governor and our legislators can talk about economic development all they want. They can promise tax breaks, tax cuts, closing funds and incentives to attract new businesses, but it's time they also put some of those resources into growing the businesses we already have here in Idaho.
MINIMUM WAGE IS NO LIVING WAGE
In a different political era, Idaho legislators quit talking about poverty in the abstract and experienced it first-hand.
Then, it was Sen. Cecil Ingram, R-Boise, and 30 of his fellow lawmakers who tried living on food stamps.
For Ingram, it was an eye-opener. He found it nearly impossible to stretch the stipend across the month. The epiphany influenced his approach to social programs from then on.
Which brings us to the minimum wage.
In Idaho, it's $7.25 an hour, unchanged since 2007. Lawmakers could do more. They don't have to wait on President Obama's plan to boost the wage to $9 an hour. Nineteen states exceed the federal floor.
Just for the sake of argument, what would happen if today's generation of Idaho lawmakers followed Ingram's example? If they tried to live on $7.25 an hour, what would they discover?
Someone who works a 40-hour week at minimum wage earns $15,080 a year, $500 short of the poverty line for a two-person household and less than half what's needed for a living wage.
Bank accounts, paying for education and saving for retirement are beyond their grasp.
Getting to work requires a car. But a minimum wage won't support a reliable one.
So when the water pump breaks or the starter motor quits, it becomes a crisis.
Minimum-wage jobs usually don't make allowances for staying home with sick children.
They don't pay enough to support day care. There's no money for health care. Housing's no cinch. Landlords often want a credit history plus a deposit check.
If someone of Ingram's curiosity were willing to look, he'd find one of every 20 Idaho workers - 7,000 men and 12,000 women - earn the minimum wage. In Idaho, he'd find the proportion of minimum-wage workers is nearly double what it was before the recession hit. He'd learn that while Idaho business profits have recovered to pre-recession levels, wages lag.
And he might - just might - notice that helping a few of Idaho's marginalized workers would be good for the people in the middle and at the top of the pyramid.
Of course, it requires leaving the cocoon of Capitol hearings and lunches with business lobbyists.
But is that too much to ask?