WestViews: Cheers and jeers

July 22, 2013 

Lewiston Tribune

JEERS ... to Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho. When the freshman put his wife, Becca, on the campaign account two years ago, it looked like a rookie mistake.

But in examining Labrador's latest campaign finance report, the Idaho Statesman's Dan Popkey noticed nothing has changed.

Labrador, who pulls down $174,000 as a member of Congress, paid his wife $6,045 for the last three months to handle the campaign's books. In addition, the campaign covered $4,224 in federal income and payroll taxes as well as another $1,188 in state taxes. Were those taxes paid on behalf of Becca Labrador? In an email, Labrador's deputy chief of staff, Mike Cunnington, stated: "As we have said before, Becca receives a monthly salary of $2,500 and the campaign pays all taxes that are required."

No member of Congress or the Senate can put his spouse on the official payroll. Hiring a spouse for the campaign account, while legal, is frowned upon.

The reason is obvious: It circumvents laws that block a member from spending campaign cash on himself. Every year, roughly $24,000 of those special-interest dollars find their way into the Labrador family budget.

Mired in a wave of ethics scandals, the House in 2007 voted to end this practice, but the reform measure died in the Senate. How many members still engage in this activity is unclear. But even one is one too many.

CHEERS ... to Idaho State Board of Education President Don Soltman of Twin Lakes. Speaking to the Idaho Statesman this week, Soltman may have closed the door on raising the cost of a college education. As lawmakers have cut back support for the state's institutions of higher learning, students have borne the burden. In the last decade, tuition rose 81 percent while incomes dropped and student debt escalated.

So how much is enough? When will the State Board say no more? "I'd like to say that we are at that point now," Soltman said.

Post Register, Idaho Falls

JEERS ... to the Corrections Corporation of America. The nation's leading private prison company obviously intends to slither out of Idaho with its awful reputation intact. CCA, which operates the Idaho Correctional Center outside Boise, has done such a poor job that even the privatization-obsessed Otter administration threw up its hands.

The State Board of Corrections will not renew CCA's contract when it expires next summer. That decision followed a series of lawsuits, settlements, an FBI investigation and admission by CCA that its employees billed taxpayers for 4,800 hours they did not work. Now, CCA wants the public shut out of the latest lawsuit filed by inmates, who claim chronic understaffing and mismanagement led to them being brutalized by members of an inmate gang. CCA denies the charges. Fine. Let both sides argue in open court. Is that not the American way? Not according to CCA, which says news organizations have no right to civil proceedings and that 17 media outlets seeking to prevent the sealing of court documents only want to cover something "scandalous."

CCA operates a state prison. It accepts nearly $30 million annually in public monies. The taxpayers have every right to know what's going on inside prison walls.

CHEERS ... to the Idaho Association of Commerce & Industry. It looks like IACI is preparing to endorse an expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

At its June conference, attendees heard what we've been saying for months: expanding Medicaid will save lives and money in Idaho. "For us, it's a business-numbers issue," IACI President Alex LaBeau. "It's pretty clear from the information and the numbers that Medicaid expansion would save industry a lot of money."

LaBeau is talking about penalties businesses that don't provide health insurance could face. But Idaho's property owners also stand to save millions through elimination of the Catastrophic Health Care Fund, a dinosaur that pays to treat the medically indigent through a combination of state general fund and local property tax dollars. And let us not forget that expanding insurance to more than 104,000 Idahoans - mostly the working poor - and getting them preventative health care is estimated to save hundreds of lives annually.

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