Minority Leader John Rusche Monthly Newsletter


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September 8, 2011

Labor Day has come and gone, but summer is hanging on strong here in the Lewis-Clark Valley. 95 degrees yesterday, warmer tomorrow. It sure will be hot and dusty at the Roundup

  Redistricting
Two days ago the Commission on Reapportionment and Redistricting came to a close. After ninety days of argument, modeling, mapping and political posturing, they ended their term without a map that could garner 4 of the six votes, the 2/3 majority needed.

Some felt that this was a predestined outcome, especially after the 2009 Republican bill that required state and federal highway connections. Idaho has a lot of mountains and empty space, and large, unwieldy districts (districts objectionable to some) were inevitable. In the end, it seems that the federal constitutional requirement for equal population, the State constitutional requirement to keep counties whole, and the statute from 2009 made the job too difficult. It was compounded by the fact that the hierarchy was not given the same weight by each delegation. To reach a common conclusion, everyone needed to understand the rules.

If the suit by the Secretary of State results in a clear statement for the commission to handle, I think they can complete their work in short order. A little good will between the delegations would help as well.

There is no precident showing a path forward if they fail to vote out a map.  I expect that the State Supreme Court will respond to the suit by clarifying the rules and criteria, and send the map drawing back to the Commission.

You can see the maps and even try your hand at drawing maps.  Here are links to the Redistricting Commission website and mapping tool.

What do do?  The potential Surplus
It is now pretty well accepted that the 2011 Legislature and the Governor set a budget that was much lower (as much as $170M lower) than projected FY 2012 revenue would have allowed. This austere budget resulted in loss of Medicaid services and federal funding, driven the argument for Superintendent Luna’s education changes, and deferred needed maintenance on state properties.

Now the discussion has begun on what to do with the”surplus”.

I do not really consider it a surplus. Surplus is what is left over when revenue exceeds your obligations. We have failed to meet our obligations.

Supt. Luna has called for $61M to go into K-12. Some legislators (and Chambers of Commerce) have called for additional tax breaks, The Governor has talked about money for education and filling holes in the budget. I agree that there are many opportunities.

Here are some of the opportunities I would pursue:

  • Replace some of the funding for needed Medicaid services to prevent greater expenses in other areas
  • Assure that state agencies can retain workers -turnover is as high as 25-30% in some areas which is quite expensive. Perhaps ending forced furlough days may be enough.
  • Enhance the efforts on the Departments of Commerce and Labor to increase employment. We are still 70,000 or so jobs down from 3-4 years ago. Training, expanding markets, even assisting in acquiring federal contracts would all add business to Idaho companies.
  • Begin to refill the rainy day funds. Another recession will happen in our future.
  • And, of course, begin to replace K-12 and higher Ed. Funding. Not a short term fix, but one worth pursuing.

If there is a need to lower the corporate tax rate, lets do it in a balanced manner by removing some of the tax preference items, things that protect certain businesses but result in a higher than needed “nominal” rate.

The projected “surplus” is just that-a projection. But should it come to pass, I would like your input on how it would best be used. Here is a link to a brief survey. Let me know what you think.

Idaho rankings
No, it isn’t how BSU football fares in the AP or Coaches poll.

There are several rankings recently published (withlinks)that should give one pause, and consider if it is what we want for our kids, our families and our state.

  • Gallup-Healthways rankings of wellbeing dropped from 10th in 2009 to 20th in 2010
  • United Health Health Rankings moved Idaho from 17th to 9th. Improvements were in immunizations and infectious disease rates, We remain last, however, on primary care physicians per capita.
  • Idaho has been low in per child spending on k-12 education, but in the past that lower spending was often explained by the low household income. Now, however, are we not only 50th nationally in per pupil spending but have dropped to 41st (from 15th on 2001) when corrected for personal income.
  • The Annie E. Casey Foundation and Idaho KidsCount found that although there have been 20% worsening in teen deaths and an 11% increase of kids in poverty, that relative to the nation as a whole Idaho kids ranked 22nd in their data.
  • Idaho has the slowest overall broadband speed in the nation. This and the low percentage of homes with broadband are of concern when trying to do on-line classes and attract 21st century businesses.

And BSU  moved from #4 to #3………

Idaho and Health Insurance Exchanges
Since my last newsletter, the Governor has tried to make the case for Idaho accepting federal funds through the Affordable Care Act for the Idaho Insurance Exchange and Department of Insurance regulatory activities.

If we do not build it, we will be forced to accept federal regulation of health insurance and small group and individual products sold through the exchange. And the Exchanges are how the ACA provides affordable health insurance premiums for lower income families.

I think the Governor is making the correct decision, although it must be difficult. After spending a career bashing the federal government, running against the federal health reform law in his last campaign, and issuing an executive order that no state employee could cooperate with ACA or receive federal money for ACA activities, he is forced to change his tune. And runs the risk of upsetting the “nullification” types in his party.

But Idaho citizens deserve the same benefits under the law as other US citizens. The only part of the law that is up for constitutional challenge now is the “individual mandate”, the requirement that everyone have health insurance. Two appeals courts (Virginia, Cincinnati) have ruled against challenges to the law. A third appeals court (Atlanta) says that the mandate is unconstitutional but the rest of the law is valid. The US Supreme Court will likely not take the cases up until next year.

So exchanges are coming. Idaho businesses and individuals will do better if we operate one ourselves as the law intended.

Personal notes
Kay is now one year out from the end of chemotherapy with no sign of recurrence. Many thanks to all who have sent their prayers, thoughts and best wishes.

And thanks to those who responded to my campaign solicitation.  If you wish, here is a link to ActBlue for online contributions.

I had the opportunity to see the other end of the medical industry. 10 days ago I took a fall from my bike (too fast down a hill, missed a turn) and after the bruises and abrasions started to heal, my wrist was still hurting. Now I have a lovely blue cast. And I am finding that I am hopelessly righthanded…..blue cast

This is the right time to be working on bills for next session,  so if there is an issue to discuss or a legislative solution to a problem, let me know so we can begin work.  It is easier now than if we wait until the session.

Information and Contact Information
It is not always easy to know what is up in Boise when the Legislature is not is session,  I try to keep track of things through the papers and blogs (Betsy Russell’sEye on Boise, Bill Spence (of the Tribune) Political Theatre, Dan Popkey (of theStatesman) Idaho Politics), or just keeping my ear to the political ground.

Thanks again for the honor you have shown in me by allowing me to serve as your representative.  You can call and leave a message at home (208-743-1339) or and I will get back to you.

It continues to by my honor to serve as your representative.

John

In This Issue
Redistricting
The potential “surplus”
New Idaho rankings
Health Exchanges
Personal Notes
Contact me!

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