Lawmakers, lobbyists, and policy gurus gathered on the steps of the Idaho state capital building on the morning of October 4th for the official launch of the Mountain States Policy Center, a new regional think tank headquartered in Coeur d’Alene.
The Mountain States Policy Center (MSPC) will provide independent research on a range of policy issues across Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and Eastern Washington, with a focus on improving the economy through free market policy reforms. Its mission: “To empower those in the Mountain States to succeed through non-partisan, quality research that promotes free enterprise, individual liberty and limited government.” Policy analysts will produce fact-based studies and highlight relevant data to inform legislators and residents on critical issues, including taxes, spending, school choice, and government transparency.
“This is a policy party,” said President & CEO Chris Cargill during the launch ceremony on Wednesday. “Without ideas, politics can be a mess of various interests. But when you have ideas, that’s when good things happen.”
Idaho has emerged as a leader in pro-growth tax reform, most recently becoming the 23rd state in the nation to adopt a flat tax. In the last 18 months alone, legislators in Boise have slashed the income tax rate on three separate occasions, reducing the top rate by nearly half – from 10.9% to a flat 5.8%. Over the same 18-month period, lawmakers returned more than $1 billion to Gem State residents in one-time tax rebates.
These income tax cuts are a commendable step in the right direction, but many states still have more competitive tax climates than Idaho. Eight states make do with no personal income tax at all and more states have moved in that direction over the past two years, lowering and flattening income tax rates like Idaho has. Even blue states like Illinois and Massachusetts where progressive Democrats dominate state government still enjoy lower income tax rates than do Idaho residents. That is why the Mountain States Policy Center hopes to see Idaho’s new flat tax lowered even further in 2023 and beyond, putting them on par with regional competitors like Utah, which boasts a flat rate of 4.85%, and Nevada and Wyoming, which have no income tax at all.
As legislators gear up for the 2023 session, the Mountain States Policy Center is advancing a transparency initiative to highlight Idaho’s 32-cent-per-gallon gas tax, as well as the 18-cent federal tax. Taxes and fees are traditionally built into the price of gasoline, but CEO Chris Cargill presents a compelling alternative in a September study: to require governments to display state and federal gas taxes directly on the gas pump. Under Cargill’s “truth-in-labeling” initiative, Idahoans would gain the right to see their tax burden at the pump, comparable to the sales tax breakdown on receipts at grocery stores and retailers.
The Mountain States Policy Center’s work to advance good policy has only just begun. Beginning November 3, think tank staff and leadership will engage in a “listening tour” to shape their research efforts around real, everyday concerns of regional residents. MSPC will also release 10 policy recommendations for state lawmakers ahead of next year’s legislative session.
Thanks to the Idaho Freedom Foundation, Associated Taxpayers of Idaho and other established policy groups, Idaho has enacted historic pro-growth tax reform and eliminated countless unnecessary regulations, leaving the state in an ideal position to make even more progress this year and beyond. Americans for Tax Reform looks forward to partnership and cooperation with these groups and with the Mountain States Policy Center, working together to reduce income and property taxes in order to build an attractive economic environment for families and businesses across the Northwest.