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What this new survey of Idahoans says about growth, California transplants and schools

Idaho

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Ada County is Idaho’s largest, with one-fourth of the state’s population. This video, produced by Ada County, explores growth in the county’s six cities — Boise, Meridian, Eagle, Kuna, Garden City and Star — since 2000 and projected to 2040. | PROVIDED BY ADA COUNTY

BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — Idahoans think the state is headed in the right direction, but they worry about growth, taxes and education, a new survey shows.

Experts at Boise State University have released the results of the fifth annual Idaho Public Policy Survey. The survey asked people about what they believed to be the most important issues facing Idaho. It was conducted in December and polled 1,000 Idahoans from 43 of the state’s 44 counties.

Much as in past years, Idahoans are worried about education, the economy and health care. But they put a new issue at the top of their list: growth.

GROWTH

A majority of respondents — 56.6% — think the state is growing too fast. In comparison, 4.7% of respondents say the growth is too slow and 35.4% say the rate is about right.

That question didn’t appear on past surveys, but researchers said it was similar to one asked of Treasure Valley residents in the past. In 2019, 75% of respondents in the Treasure Valley believed growth was too fast.

The survey asked people who had moved to Idaho where they came from More than 26% of those respondents said they came from California. The other top states were Washington, Utah, Oregon and Nevada.

Newcomers also tend to approximately match the political leanings of people already in the state. Of the people who said they had lived in Idaho for 10 years or more, 56% said they were Republicans and 29% identified as Democrats. That’s close to what people who had spent 10 years or less in the state said, with respondents coming in as 59% Republican and 28% Democrat.

The people who moved from California to Idaho “are a decidedly Republican group,” the survey notes.

EDUCATION

Last year’s respondents ranked education as the most important issue. It came in second this year.

People still ranked it as the issue that most needs to be addressed by the state Legislature. That could be because the majority of respondents didn’t think highly of the state’s public schools. Only 3.6% ranked the K-12 schools as “excellent.” In comparison, 24.9% of people said they thought they were “good,” 34.6% thought they were “fair” and 29.9% ranked the schools “poor.”

That’s a slightly worse ranking than 2019’s survey, in which 4.1% of respondents ranked the schools as excellent and 27.3% ranked them as poor. People tend to rank their own school districts a little better.

Those opinions mirrored how people thought about how well the state was preparing students for an education beyond high school. About 5% of respondents said schools were doing an “excellent” job, compared with 25% “good,” 39% “fair” and 23% “poor.”

BUDGET AND TAXES

The survey found Idahoans a plurality of Idahoans, 44%, think the state budget should be increased. About 32% of people think it should stay the same, and about 10% think it should decrease. That is similar to numbers from the 2019 survey.

The number of people who said thought felt taxes were too high jumped from 20.4% of respondents to 26.5%. Fewer people said their taxes were “too low” or “about right,” but a majority of respondents — 60.5% — still said taxes are about right.

Most respondents at least somewhat favor a local option sales tax, which is not currently allowed in most cities and counties under state law. In total, 61.5% of people said they were at least somewhat in favor, while 31.5% said they were at least somewhat opposed. A majority of respondents from all party affiliations said they were in favor.

People would necessarily vote for a local option tax in their own cities, however. The survey split its 1,000 respondents into two groups of 500 people. One group was asked if they’d support a local option tax for improving public transportation in their city, the other if they’d support the tax for improving roads and bridges.

A majority in each group supported local-option taxes. A higher percentage of respondents (56.8%) were at least slightly in favor of using the tax for roads and bridges than those who were at least slightly in favor of using it for public transportation (52.1%).

OTHER ISSUES

  • 63.4% of respondents said the requirements to get an issue on the ballot are “about right,” compared with 17% who said it was too difficult and 10.2% who said it was too easy.
  • 85.6% of people are at least somewhat in favor of a statewide policy to make it illegal to text or email while driving. (38.6% of people admitted to doing that in the past three months.)
  • A slim plurality of people (40%) at least somewhat favor removing dams on the Lower Snake River in an effort to restore salmon runs in the state. In comparison, at least 38.2% somewhat oppose removal, and 21.7% of respondents said they weren’t sure.
  • The top charitable causes people give to in Idaho are religious (28.6%), children and family (27%), environment or animals (10.4%), anti-poverty (7.1%) and education (6.8%).

You can read the whole survey online at BSU’s Idaho Policy Institute.

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