Legislative update — Heavy lifting awaits

February 23, 2015

I have said before that each legislative session develops a personality unto its own. This session is no different. So how would I characterize this session six weeks in? Like an airport that gives every indication it’s open for business but is only seeing smaller planes landing. The big cargo planes carrying issues such as education, transportation, Medicaid redesign, tax increases, and/or tax relief continue to circle the airport.

In all fairness, legislators, various state departments and staff are working diligently to configure these issues in a way that best makes sense for Idaho. The fear is that when the dam breaks, some folks who would rather not get wet will be looking for more than a pair of water wings. At the risk of offering too little detail on too many issues, I’d like to touch on some of the heavy lifting that still needs hoisting.

· Education: Superintendent Sherri Ybarra’s presentation to JFAC was uncharacteristically short. The bad news is lack of detail, while the good news is opportunity for stakeholders to have input well beyond what they have had in years past. She touted the importance of local control. In my opinion, it is imperative that those in the education community be professionally assertive in helping shape the direction of education. I have optimism the new Superintendent will be receptive to thoughtful input.

· IEN: The short answer is this whole effort to deliver broadband services to schools through a statewide network is a mess and on the verge of total collapse. The courts have ruled that Idaho erred in how the contracts were awarded and now the legislature is scrambling to keep the network operational. Stay tuned, this issue may actually get uglier and costlier before it gets better.

· Transportation and Tax Relief: The number thrown around just to maintain Idaho roads and bridges is over 250 million of new money per year. How do we get there? Some ideas are to raise the sales tax to 7 cents, increase registration fees, and increase the fuel tax. Some feel the need to mitigate any tax increase with tax relief so there is talk of taking the sales tax off groceries, eliminating the grocery tax credit and doing a flat tax rate of 6.6 percent. I have serious concerns about the lack of equity with a flat tax. I also have some concerns about taking the sales tax off groceries unless the list of foods eligible for the exemption can be narrowed somewhat.

· Medicaid Redesign: It was thought a solution with “Idaho Fingerprints” would find its way to the finish line this year. In fact the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry is working diligently to bring stakeholders to consensus. I am hearing they are getting closer to having something to present soon, but time is of the essence and the clock is ticking.

I fully expect a frantic late February and March and air traffic control needs to make sure they are not drinking decaf. That said, leadership on both sides of the rotunda are talented and capable individuals who care deeply about the well being of our state. I do feel that we need to methodically, thoughtfully, and carefully start bringing these many issues of substance to the terminal. We know all too well how unattractive the last two weeks of the session can look when we don’t.

Idaho State Journal 2/22/15