Calm before the storm

January 18, 2014

The skies were mostly clear, the winds light and variable, and the temperature mild for late December. I noticed a state truck chugging up a mild grade on I-15 near the Portneuf Gap. The preconditioning mix he was applying to the road is intended to make the anticipated snow less of a burden to remove later. The life span of the application is somewhat finite and should the storm event not occur his efforts will have been in vain.

Sort of reminds me of how the 2014 session has started. Preparation, anticipation, and preemptive strategy have all been employed. Much of this seems to be driven by the interesting political dynamics in play. Two weeks in it’s hard to tell if contested primaries, health care and common core are pending storms or if the political deicer was not needed.

One message that is consistent has been, “Let’s have a short session so we can get home to campaign”. If that battle cry is indicative of the kind of primary season that lies ahead it could be a real donnybrook. I agree a short session would be nice but we shouldn’t brush over important work just to accommodate election ambitions.

All circling the ring aside, some important work is taking place. I was a member of the “Change in Employee Compensation” or CEC committee that met the first week. Their nonbinding recommendation was a 1% ongoing and a 1% onetime pay increase for state employees. I am fine with that other than onetime bonuses are like renting instead of buying. As such we don’t build needed equity in the state’s workforce.

I continue to be cautiously optimistic about education reassuming its proper position at the top of our priority list. I feel budget and policy discussions have been positive and remain hopeful that we will find ways to move our education system off the dime.

I also expect the Idaho Core Standards to be a point of contention among some legislators. These standards set the bar higher in mathematics and English language arts. From what I can tell the epicenter of concern is to what extent federal fingerprints are on the standards. That opinion varies greatly and the review process will be critical in vetting that out prior to a decision being made.

Health issue discussions will include debate over Medicaid redesign and the state based exchange. I expect lively discussion as more than a dozen exchange board appointees will come before the Senate for confirmation. While I don’t expect Medicaid redesign to be voted on, it is part of the health care discussion. County and state indigent programs are busy considering how to best cope with the Affordable Care Act. This may or may not result in legislation and could dramatically change if or how claims are paid.

Subsequent to the state truck applying deicer to I-15 there was not a hint of a storm. In the legislature this year I don’t expect the winds aloft to cause politically unpleasant weather to completely miss the state capitol. That said I don’t think we’re looking at the winter of ’48 either. Common sense, leadership, patience and time will tell. Stay tuned….

Idaho State Journal 1/18/14