The push to move Oregon’s border to a “Greater Idaho” should worry Malheur residents. The organizers of the movement are touting the financial, political, and moral benefits of moving the border. Maybe this is true, but it seems that most of those benefits will extend exclusively to wealthy upper class citizens, a group that doesn’t need any more help, while middle and lower class residents will suffer.
Idaho’s labor laws should be enough to convince Malheur residents to reject moving the border. With the next increase starting July 1 of this year, minimum wage in the county will be nearly $5 more per hour than in Idaho. Moving the border will rob minimum-wage workers of nearly $800 per month before taxes. Moreover, opponents of raising the minimum wage have always pointed out that when minimum wage is increased, it increases everyone else’s wages. It stands to reason that decreasing it will also decrease other people’s wages. Though small business employers will pocket a little more money, it will be large businesses with many employees who will reap the biggest benefit.
It is true that Idaho’s taxes are significantly less than Oregon’s. However, Idaho relies heavily on sales tax, which is a regressive tax. It disproportionately affects middle and lower income families because it takes away a larger percentage of their overall income. Meanwhile, millionaires in Idaho pay the same percentage of state income tax as someone who makes $12,000 a year. Though lower, Idaho’s taxes will hurt Malheur residents who have the lowest median income and are the most impoverished in the state.
Idaho’s land use laws will be less restrictive to individual residents, but it will be a boon for wealthy businesses to buy up land and change it however they see fit. The result is a loss of rural farmland to make way for large housing and business development looking akin to the I-84 corridor between Sand Hollow and Boise, usually bringing with them nothing better than minimum wage or low-wage jobs. Moving the border would also negate many rural Oregonian’s successful negotiations of land use.
In education Idaho ranks last in two important metrics and in the bottom 25% in nearly all of the others. It consistently ranks last (51st including D.C.) in per-student spending and, as a result, has been labeled by researchers as the least educated state in the U.S. based on high school graduation rates, college and professional education, and graduate degrees. And as every government and nearly every corporation in the world knows, the best way to control a population is to deny easy access to a good education.
Let’s remember that Idaho is far from being a unified state and has divisions of its own. A trip through northern and eastern Idaho to see the billboards and lawn signs disparaging the politics and politicians in Boise reveals this rift. Doubling Idaho’s land mass will only create more division, not solve problems.
As much as the leaders of the ‘Greater Idaho’ initiative want it to be, this is not an issue about preserving rural values. Just like Idahoans, rural Oregonians can buy and carry weapons, they can educate their children any way they choose (in public, private, or home school), they can worship the way they want, and they can use and throw away as many plastic bags and straws as they see fit. Two-thirds of the state does not need to move to Idaho in order to retain those values. To use the old cliché, this is a solution in search of a problem.
As a Malheur resident, I also feel like the Democratic majority in the Willamette Valley don’t adequately listen to the concerns of eastern Oregonians. How could they possibly empathize with the day-to-day problems we face? However, those unique problems will not be solved by simply having the ability to vote red in a red state. Seceding from Oregon will only create more economic inequality by ripping a canyon-size gap between the rich and the poor.