Idaho’s growth is creating challenges that should be the number one concern of every elected official in the state. Idaho is one of the fastest growing states in the nation. Between 2010 and 2020, more than 271,000 people were new to Idaho (17.3% growth). That is an average of over 2200 new people in Idaho every month for ten years. Unsurprisingly, this abrupt growth is causing a lot of problems.
Housing is not keeping up with our growth. It seems unbelievable to those of us that live in fast-growing areas of the state, but Idaho saw only a 12.5% growth in housing units between 2010 and 2019 (83,300 housing units) compared to our 17.3% population growth. That our population growth has outpaced our housing growth has resulted in a high demand for housing, and a big jump in housing costs. Home prices have risen 118% over the last five years, the highest cost increase in the nation.
Improvements and expansions to our freeways and highways have also not kept up with our growth. Many of our highways have been crumbling and overcrowded for more than a decade (think Highways 55 and 20-26). Our transportation system has been neglected for a long time, and now that we are growing we need the legislature to focus on creative approaches and planning so our roads are drivable.
Construction has resulted in a loss of farmland, which means a loss of revenue and jobs. Most of Idaho’s aquifers are shrinking and we are using water faster than it can be replenished. Idaho is $1 billion behind in school building maintenance and fast-growing districts are struggling to build new schools to keep pace with growth. The Treasure Valley’s public transportation system is way behind that of similarly-sized metro areas (for example, Spokane).
Our legislators should have spent their off-time having conversations with officials on the front-lines of our growth (mayors, city councilors, county commissioners, fire chiefs, EMT chiefs, police chiefs, school boards, irrigation boards, business chambers, etc.) to figure out how to keep Idaho livable for working people as Idaho transforms and moves into the future.
They should be thinking about our toughest challenges, prioritizing them, and addressing them. How can we keep our farmland and have enough housing units to keep housing costs reasonable? What investments can we make now to ensure we have enough water in the future? How can we help school-districts in fast-growing areas now so they can continue preparing our kids for tomorrow’s jobs?
Instead, the legislature is spending time and (our) money on bills that have nothing to do with addressing the urgent issues arising from growth (and nothing to do with anything that Idahoans really care about).
This year’s hot bills would allow citizens to sue libraries (HB384), allow our tax dollars to be spent on religious education (HJR001), repeal the medicaid expansion that Idahoans voted for by over 60% in 2018 (HB419), and more like these.
Idaho is at a crossroads. Our legislature should be doing the hard work of collaborating with local officials in their districts, thinking through today’s toughest problems, and developing short-term and long-term strategies for keeping Idaho great. Instead our legislature is focused on divisive bills, power struggles inside their party, partisan bickering, and of course protecting and growing their power.
Things don’t have to be this way. This year, we should vote for candidates who are interested in addressing the actual problems Idaho is facing.