The Idaho Legislature tackled a variety of challenging topics this past session, but things wont be any easier next year, three lawmakers say.
The trio cited several major issues they expect the Legislature to take up in 2014 in a recent appearance at a chamber of commerce luncheon in Lewiston. Here are highlights.
A MISSED OPPORTUNITY
House Minority Leader John Rusche of Lewiston says Medicaid expansion, a provision of the federal Affordable Care Act, will top next years list of unfinished business. The failure to address that issue was the biggest oversight of the 2013 session, he says. Delaying the decision could cost local taxpayers more than $40 million, and leaves more than 100,000 Idahoans without access to the government-run health plan. Im disappointed we didnt treat that issue with as much energy as the state (health insurance) exchange, Rusche says. It puts an unnecessary cost on taxpayers and burdens many low-income families.
The $40 million cost estimate assumes expanding the income eligibility limits for Medicaid from 133 percent to 138 percent of the federal poverty level would dramatically reduce the number of people receiving medical care through the catastrophic health care program, which is funded by county taxpayers and the state general fund.
Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, agreed the Legislature missed an opportunity by declining to discuss the expansion this year.
If we dont like some things about the expansion, then lets talk about that, he says.
Rep. Thyra Stevenson, R-Lewiston, says shes looking forward to continued dialogue on how to deal with rising health care costs.
Im not sure its a bad thing we werent able to get to Medicaid expansion this session, she says. Its a huge expansion of government, and a lot of us want to have more discussion about it. While there may be short-term savings, theres the potential for significant long-term costs.
Stevenson says the House Republican caucus also has some work ahead of it trying to repair relationships that were frayed during the bruising debate over the state health insurance exchange. The caucus split over the bill, with 29 voting in opposition and 28 voting in support, joined by all 13 House Democrats.
That created a lot of dissent and ill-feeling, she says. It needs to be fixed so we can all work together.
THEY STILL NEED MONEY
Transportation funding will be another big topic, says Johnson, the vice chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.
Committee Chairman Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, introduced several bills in March that collectively would raise about $375 million in new funding for highway maintenance, expansion and safety improvements. He wants stakeholders to discuss the issue over the summer, with the intent of bringing the bills back for action next year.
Its not going to be popular, but we have to address it, Johnson says.
A 2010 gubernatorial task force concluded the state faces a $543 million annual shortfall in transportation funding, including $262 million just to maintain the existing system in its current condition.
BIG FIRMS STILL WANT RELIEF
Personal property tax relief will likely be back next year as well, Johnson says. Lawmakers approved $20 million in relief this session. That eliminates the tax for about 85 percent of all Idaho businesses, but larger corporations want to eliminate the remaining $120 million raised through the tax.
I dont think the state can afford it, (but) there will be a lot of discussion about that, Johnson says.
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