By Tom Loertscher
Each year before the legislative session begins the news media in particular asks legislators what they think will be the big issues for the year. I can always think of a few but inevitably there are surprises along the way. This is bound to be one of those years that will have several heavy issues and difficult decisions to make.
It was a vintage Governor Otter that we heard as he delivered the State of the State and Budget address on the opening day on January 7th. He is very good at building up his audience with great things and I think it is an effort on his part to make everyone feel good about Idaho. There is no question how he and all of us feel about Idaho and at times we need to be reminded about what a great place this is to live and raise our families.
As for the rest of the address he was a little short on some details. He urged passage of Health Insurance Exchange legislation. I haven’t seen what he is proposing but he seemed to want the legislature to fill in a lot of the blanks. Most of the correspondence that I have been receiving on this item has been opposed to the idea no matter what form it might take. The biggest questions for me are as to just what it will take to make the Feds agree to a plan and what the cost of a new bureaucracy will be. And as usual it looks like Federal Agencies will be dictating an awful lot to us. This should be a very interesting topic. Medicaid expansion has been recommended by the Task Force the Governor appointed but he hedged about whether he was going to pursue it this year. In my view Medicaid expansion is another big ticket item and the price tag over time, given past experience, will be great.
In several areas of the state (and ours is no exception) another big issue is the proposed repeal of the personal property tax. A real shock for most who were listening was Governor Otter recommending that the legislature look at local option taxation as a means of replacement revenue. Given the state revenue forecast for the year and into the future, it is difficult to ever come up with adequate state revenue to replace the tax statewide. For a local option of a local income tax, or a local sales tax seems to be an uphill battle for most jurisdictions. And in addition for some of the smaller communities it would to be a local business killer as well. I happened to be looking at one of the conservative group think tank directors when the Governor brought up the idea of local option and I thought the fellow was going to fall from the gallery.
The mention of and a plan to build a secure mental health facility in Boise is probably something the Legislature is going to have to consider very seriously. I will be looking for details as to how this will work as opposed to community based services. Family involvement is essential to good outcomes in the mental health system. With our mental health courts we have been the model for the entire nation and we have to make sure that we take full advantage of what we have accomplished.
For now we are all set up and ready to roll. With all of the new legislators this year you would have a hard time recognizing the place but all of the new folks are eager to make their mark on history. I have kidded a few of them by telling them that they have no idea what is about to hit them. It won’t be long now.
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