Opposition to Tuition Proposal Looks To Divide and Label

President Washington prepares to lead troops to quell so-called "whiskey rebels"

President Washington prepares to lead troops to quell so-called “whiskey rebels”

You would think Idaho was experiencing the Whiskey Rebellion Part Two judging by some of the rhetoric shared regarding the ballot initiative to modestly increase the state’s tobacco tax to lower the cost of college and increase revenue to the state’s tobacco cessation programs.

“Liberal agenda, un-American, and unconscionable acts” are some of the words being used to describe the ballot initiative in the state’s newspapers.

Interestingly, there does not appear to be a partisan debate in the gem state about the need to increase both the percentage of students who enroll in higher education after graduation or the need for those students who do enroll to successfully complete their degree programs.  Republicans and democrats equally share this noble goal.

But that’s about where the bipartisan goodwill ends.  While the Idaho State Board of Education, directed at the behest of state leadership made-up–in entirety–of republicans, set a goal in 2010 for 60% of Idaho’s young people to enter higher education by 2020, the state leaders then declined to provide the most fundemental ingredient to achieve this objective: increased state funding to Gem State colleges, universities, and public scholarships in order to motivate young people to attend.Percentage of Idaho with Degree

In fact, leadership engaged in quite a contradictory fashion.  Despite setting a new high bar for increasing college enrollment, the state actually reduced the percentage of the Idaho’s general fund for college enrollment resulting in ballooning tuition costs for students enrolling in Gem State colleges and universities.

Since 1990 when Idaho provided nearly 16% of the general fund to Idaho’s higher education institutions, the percentage has since shrink by nearly a third to just less than 10%.  In response to shrinking monetary resources provided by the state, Idaho’s colleges and universities responded, logically, by replacing those lost revenues by increasing tuition costs for students.
Percent Fund used for higher ed Idaho

Keep in mind that tuition is not the only cost for a student that increases as colleges, in the wake of less funding from the state, place a larger burden of funding on the students themselves.  These additional costs also accrue in housing costs as universities increase the rents for student housing on campus.  These occur as increased lab fees.  And, of course, these increased costs impact the community at large as well as students in the form of parking passes/fees, ticket cost increases to sporting events, etc.  One need not mention university sponsored scholarships, of course, have nearly become an extinct species.

Percentage Idaho Enrolled

All of which results in increased costs for would-be Idaho students and the community at large.  As those costs rose, the benefit of attending higher education in Idaho and taking on substantial debt fell for many of Idaho’s young people.  With the exception of a very minor bump in enrollment during the recession in which many citizens, namely older workers, entered college to “retool,” Idaho’s enrollment rate has been and continues to decline since 2011.

Enter how the ballot initiative sponsored by Stop Tuition Hikes fits into this.  The petition seeks to modestly increase the tax on tobacco in the state to provide tuition relief to not only Idaho’s students, but to generate additional revenue for the state’s tobacco cessation fund.  Which is to say–if successful–college would become more affordable, less tobacco would be purchased due to increased prices, and there would be more resources to help citizens quit using tobacco.

Inflated rhetoric also makes an appearance since the petition went public.  Letters to the editor in Idaho’s newspapers and social media in opposition to the initiative range from the conspiratorial “liberal agenda” to the more treacherous “un-American.”  Selective taxation, it seems, is both downright unpatriotic and part of a lefty conspiracy.

Which sounds, interestingly, like an argument that started nearly at the birth of this country with the Whiskey Rebellion and has continued, in perpetuity, to today: taxation.

In this case, selective taxation on tobacco has not been proposed as some left-wing “nanny state” conspiracy; instead, it is in direct response to statehouse leadership’s inability–or lack of motivation–to address ballooning costs to attend higher education in Idaho by providing more financial resources to colleges from the state.  Likewise, selective taxation has been a part of this country since its infancy; indeed, the revenues raised by selective taxation paid for the ability for this country to fight for our freedoms during its birth.  There is nothing ‘un-American’ about it.

Both parties in Idaho want to see more of the Gem State’s young people have the resources to enroll in higher education upon graduation.  Both parties want to reduce healthcare costs and see citizens live healthy lives.  By my observation, those goals are both bipartisan.

But hey, maybe we’ll see UN black helicopters dropping petition copies in the Gem State.  Then we’d know for sure.



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