Following is a Q and A with Brad Little, lightly edited for clarity:
Idaho Statesman: So what are the challenges facing the next governor?
Brad Little: “Regardless of who wins this election, I think with the debt load the federal government has, there’s going to be significant consequences — whether the federal government is going to increase taxes, whether they’re going to dramatically slash spending. All of those options are going to have consequences for the states. So I believe the state that's growing the fastest, has the most robust economy, has the best trained workforce is going to be best prepared. You just got to add velocity to the economy to where whenever those challenges come off, you can blow through them by having higher incomes and better jobs.”
IS: But Idaho has among the lowest median income levels in the nation.
BL: “That’s exactly right. It’s a problem, a huge problem. But we’re seeing that go up. I hear from my business friends that they can’t get enough help and they’re having to raise wages. That’s what a free market economy is about. If you get a scarcity of skilled labor, you’re going to have more competition.”
IS: What about raising the state’s minimum wage?
BL: I’m all for increasing wages and people having a living wage, but there’s two things that are really important. ‘A’ is people have to have work experience, and for kids, I understand that. And “B,” in Idaho, how do you say that the wage in Ketchum is the same as the wage in Dietrich or somewhere where you can buy a house for $25,000? I get local communities doing a minimum wage, but all that does is create fringe activity right on the outside of (that community). What (a higher state minimum wage) would do is make the rich cities richer and the poor cities poorer, because people would say, ‘I’m going to go somewhere where there’s more infrastructure.’”
IS: And what about taxes – cut them or leave them as is?
BL:“I’m actually in both camps – that sounds like a politician. I think if we have trajectory on the economy we’re going to have an opportunity to cut taxes, that we should cut them in a way that is fair, simple, predictable, and competitive. And that’s the hard part of tax policy: What’s competitive for one person might not be for another….
“Income taxes: We’re always compared to Utah. In essence, Utah’s 5 percent – you’ve got to add 30 percent on to that the way it's calculated (to accurately compare to Idaho’s taxes). So if you add 30 percent on to five percent, that’s 6.5. We can get down to there (from the current top tax rate of 7.4 percent). I don’t have a problem with a long term plan that says we’re going to shave a tenth of a point off of the income tax over a period of years so that we can still fund the necessary parts of government which we’re required to do -- in education (for example). And even if we weren’t required to do it, we absolutely have to do it if we’re going to be competitive in the world.”
IS: Where do you fit ideologically on the political spectrum?
BL:“I classify myself as a kind of classical Idaho conservative. I start my analysis from almost a libertarian standpoint – why should government be doing this? But I understand and agree that there are certain things – like providing for schools. I believe that we have an obligation to provide education attainment for our kids and that those with adequate resources shouldn’t be the only ones that get their kids educated….”
IS: So why would someone choose to vote for you?
BL: If they want to see more and better jobs and higher incomes and see Idaho stay on the path of being a great place — that saying that everybody uses — to live work and raise a family. If they’ve got one issue and that’s the only issue they talk about, I’m probably not their guy. I'd love to talk to them and have the discussion. But if you're young and you’re going into the workforce, or you’ve got kids that have left the state and you want them to come back — I hear that all the time: What do we do about this brain drain? There’s ample evidence that they’re coming back now….
“I’ve got a record. I didn’t carry a lot of bills in the Legislature. I was in leadership. I was very concerned about the trains running on time and people doing the right thing and balancing the budget, and real passionate about the fact that we didn’t hide things in the budget. ...”