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Politically Incorrect

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What's it like to live in North Idaho?

“So, what’s it like to live in Idaho?” I’m sure I’m not the only person who hears that question, and my friends who live in Heron, Noxon and beyond likely get much the same, with only the name of the state changed.

Here’s my answer - it’s great. It’s the best place in the world to live.

Does that mean it’s perfect? Well, not really. For example, I read in the Bonner County Daily Bee the other day that Idaho residents are among the highest taxed people in the United States - only 12 states pay more in taxes. In Idaho, the article said, we pay 10.1 percent of our income to state and local taxes. This kind of goes hand-in-hand with Idaho residents also being among the most underpaid workers in the U.S. - at an average per capita income of $36,500 a year, only eight states have residents who make less. (See note at end.)

Man, I wish I made $36,500 a year. But I digress.

So part of what it’s like to live in Idaho is to make not very much money, and to pay a bigger percentage of it in taxes, which kind of makes you want to say, “Well, duh!”

Think about it. Say it costs $1,000 to build a mile of road. (Okay, in reality that pays for about an inch of road, but this is a hypothetical here.) I make $36,500 a year in Idaho, and my brother makes $100,000 a year in California. Guess who’s gonna pay a bigger percentage of their income to build that road than her brother will?

As for those low wages, I gotta ask ya - just where can any of us get off bitchin’ about it? Those of us who moved here knew coming in we weren’t going to make the same kind of salary we’d make elsewhere, and those who were born here always have the option of leaving for a place where they can make more money.

There’s yet another facet to that calculation, and that can be covered under the term “economies of scale.” Go back to the $1,000 road. If I live on a road with three other people, my share of building that road will be $250. But if 250 other people want to live on that road (well, 249 plus me to make the math easy) my share of the cost of that road drops to four dollars.

So which road do you want to live on? Personally, I think one of the great things about living in North Idaho is only having three other people on the road so again, who am I to bitch about my taxes?

By the way... if you’re wondering what per capita means in a state with a large Mormon population, refer back to the previous paragraph on economies of scale.

Then I read in Dave Oliveria’s blog  that gas prices in Idaho are 26 cents a gallon higher than the national average and that gas tax receipts are down.

So in Idaho, we pay a heck of a lot for gas, and somehow people are managing to buy less of it.

I think they must all live in Boise.

The reality here is that you drive a lot if you happen to live out of town. That’s because it’s too far to ride a bike (at least, too far for those of us who aren’t bicycle enthusiasts, and/or don’t have an extra four to eight hours in our day for that kind of commute).

In North Idaho, our only public transportation is the school bus and, in an area where people have such diverse destinations, carpooling is what we call it when we stand on the highway and stick out our thumb. My gasoline bill each month is higher than my house payment; that’s because my bank, grocery store, business contacts (for the most part) and significant other all live in Sandpoint, a cool  28-plus miles from my home in Clark Fork, which is right about where I want it to be.

On a brighter note, living in Idaho means living with wildlife, including many species that most Americans will never see outside of a picture in a magazine. And we don’t have to head up into the woods to see them all - many animals are happy to visit us in our own backyards, especially if we forget to cover up the garbage. Right here in my yard in the heart of town (okay, Clark Fork only has 500 people, but it’s still a town) I’ve had deer, elk, moose and raccoons the size of a cocker spaniel. I’ve seen cougar tracks near the creek that’s just 100 yards away, swerved to miss both bear and bobcat on the highway (not to mention those insanely suicidal deer), and watched bald eagles circle around my property.

In the summertime I can jump in the big lake to cool off, or into one of the numerous small mountain lakes or streams that abound here; or I would if they weren’t so cold. I bless those long, summer days, when the sun stays out ‘til long past my bedtime, because there’s so much to do and lots of daylight to do it in. In the winter I can throw on skis or snowshoes and head out into a quiet so pure I can sometimes hear God talking to me. Come fall I wear shorts in the daytime but have to throw on a jacket at night if I plan to stay up late and watch the meteor showers come falling down around me. In both spring and fall I revel in the late afternoon thunderstorms but in the springtime, I must admit, I’m generally stuck in a couple of feet of mud, which at other times of the year I call my driveway.

What’s it like to live in a small town in Idaho? Well, most everyone knows who you are and what you do and there’s not much that can be considered a secret, which is a blessing for the most part, especially if you’re raising kids. (The kids don’t always think it’s a blessing, of course.)

Most of the time (this is not an exaggeration) when someone calls here with a wrong number, I know the person they’re trying to reach and can give them the correct number to call. Even though I haven’t been on a party line for almost 20 years.

A lot of people up here, especially if they have kids, practically work a second full-time job as a volunteer for various things, on top of their full-time job as a wage-earner, and despite all that work they still don’t have an awful lot of money. That’s because money is not their primary goal in life and that makes for a good community to live in.

In fact, the only downside to life in Idaho I can see is too many people I know have or have had cancer. We’ve got an awful lot of it up here, more so than any of our neighbors around us, and as soon as I finish researching why that is, I’ll share those reasons with all of you.

That’s cancer in the body, though - it’s not cancer in the soul, which is what I’ve seen in so many other places.

Idaho - and Montana right next door to us - is changing as people around the country come to visit and find out this is the kind of place where they’d like to live. It’s yet to be seen whether we will successfully incorporate these newcomers into our communities, allowing these areas to grow while maintaining all that makes this one of the “last, best places” on Earth to live. I hope we manage to do it, so that 20 years from now I can write about what it’s like to live in Idaho, and find that it hasn’t really changed. Except maybe I won’t be spending quite so much on gasoline.

By the way, there’s no such thing as “average per capita” - see Grammar Damage on page 34. I think the Bee meant per capita alone as per the Tax Foundation report. The Bureau of Economic Analysis for 2007, however, says our per capita income was $31,197.

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Landon Otis

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North Idaho

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