October 14, 2011
Finally it feels like fall. Family travels are done and Legislative meetings continue. Here is a brief update on things I have been doing.
Health Insurance Exchange
No doubt you remember the vocal denunciation of the Affordable Care Act and anything related to “Obamacare” by the Governor and the Republican Legislative Leadership during the campaign of 2010 and through the 2011 session. “Nullification” bills, a lawsuit against the federal government, and an executive order forbidding cooperation with ACA were part of last session.
Now, the reality of the increasing cost of healthcare, the 20% of Idaho citizens without health care coverage, and the effect of not complying with the law are setting in on Idaho healthcare providers and businesses and business organizations. The Governor and the Departments of Health and Welfare and Insurance have devised a plan for Idaho’s compliance with (part) of the health reform law by building a State Health Insurance Exchange, and accepting federal funds for the effort.
This is likely to be a very big deal this session. Marty Trillhaase of the Lewiston Tribune has summarized the situation here. This will also play out in Republican primary elections.
My feeling is that is it a no brain-er. Idaho businesses, citizens and health care providers will do better with a state exchange rather than a national exchange.
The potential Surplus–Survey results
Last month I talked a bit about the potential that in FY 2012 our revenue might exceed budgeted expenses by $160 million if forecasts hold true. Many responded to the survey on uses of those funds.
This is in no way scientific or statistically valid. It likely is biased. But more tha 95% of respondents thpought that restoring cuts to K-12 education and Medicaid should be a priority. Slightly more than half felt that developing a jobs program or increased support for higher education was important. About 1/3 thought replenishing the rainy day funds was a top concern. Less than 11% wanted to use the revenue to decrease the corporate tax rate.
I appreciate the responses. I am sure that there will be more opportunities for input as the session approaches.
Per Diem payments and Legislative Privilege
There have been a few articles this past few weeks about potential abuse of the Legislative per diem payment. To be clear up front, I do get a per diem payment of $122 per day during the legislative session to offset the cost of maintaining a second residence.
As Lewiston is greater than 50 miles from the Capitol, it is “deemed” by the IRS to be appropriate reimbursement and is not taxable income but rather a valid expense. In addition, I can have the cost of a trip back to the home district covered (either mileage or air ticket) weekly. I do not get reimbursement for other “living expenses” or travel during the session. None of the reimbursements are added into PERSI totals.
After having lived in a hotel, a rental house, and two different rented condos, I chose to buy a condo 14 months ago. I find that having a place during the interim period makes it easier to fulfill legislative duties and to attend other meetings in Boise. And the prices were really down from 2 years previously.
I think that the rules are fairy clear–those from over 50 miles away get a higher per diem but it is not income or added into pension amounts. Those from inside 50 miles get the lower ($49) amount, but it is treated, by IRS rules, as income and is taxed. I think commuting costs should be considered covered by the per diem.
What I thought was clear obviously is not. We will be addressing this during the session I am sure..
Redistricting–the Saga continues
The Supreme Court has declared that the current Congressional districts are unconstitutional, and that the previous commission terminated their term without a map and could not serve as commissioners again. The Secretary of State rapidly called for new commissioners, and a new commission started 3 weeks ago. They also have 90 days to make a new map.
We start filing for legislative races in February, so there is no time to waste ( all of the registered voters must be placed into their new district before then). I think the county clerks and the Sec. of State will be rushed. But most political observers are optimistic that the Commission can complete their work fairly quickly. I hope so. It is difficult to talk to people about being candidates when they are unsure what their district looks like.
You can see the maps and even try your hand at drawing maps. Here are links to the Redistricting Commission website and mapping tool.
The fall barrage of pre-session meetings is in full force. If you have an issue to discuss, or want me to talk to your group, please call or email.
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.
I got my cast off today. It is amazing how right-handed I am with regards to simple things–spoons, cutting bread, toothbrushing and shaving. My handwriting, although never great (I am a physician after all), was almost unreadable. I owe a bunch of thank-yous for campaign donations, and yard work is stacking up. And I want to get back on the bike to see if it will throw me again…….
Here are some of the issues I am working on for the session:
Sesquicentennial License plate for Historical societies
Health Insurance Exchange
Jobs bills (like we did in 2009)
Health quality information/transparency