Session ends Soon (maybe)
I write to share and reflect on the work of the Idaho legislature this past session. This letter was mailed to many constituents, But I post it here with links, pictures, and graphs.
We start the session in the dark of January (second Monday) and we ended about 1:30AM Saturday, April 11th, a couple weeks past the spring equinox. Constituents should know what the legislature did as well as some of my own efforts and involvement. While it may not look like we are all working together, indeed we are. This system of government was not designed to maximize performance, instead to maximize representation. Many voices, many desires can make choosing a direction difficult.
But our governor appointed a broad-based task force two years ago, and then he endorsed their recommendations. Top of the list was #1. Raise teacher pay, #2. Change HOW teachers are paid. We were able to accomplish this in the legislature this year with a Career Ladder bill and increased funding. Maintaining this commitment will require sustained effort. I challenge you to hold us to this commitment.
The second big need is road maintenance, but funding can be painful to talk about. Further, we haven’t had as much drama around highway funding, just a slowly building awareness of this need, so I was not surprised when we didn’t fully address this before we quit. Since the whole legislature runs for election every two years, I doubt we will address this next year either, since it takes a special courage to stand before the voters and call for their taxes to go up. Estimates say we need $270M more a year just to maintain—not improve our roads; and this assumes a continued level of federal support. The bill we passed came in with a third of the needed support. But it will take a long, strong effort by our elected and industry leaders to move a plan forward. I am committed to this investment; let’s not wait for a crisis. Every year the hole gets bigger.
I had some specific efforts, but again, nobody gets anything done alone in this process. I am a member of the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee (JFAC) and I am proud that we have controlled Medicaid and Health and Welfare spending for three years in a row now. This hasn’t always been the case (see graph below). I believe the efforts of the Department Director, the governor and the legislature all deserve credit. Nobody does this work alone.
Idaho must have a balanced budget; with limited revenue, if we spend more on healthcare, we spend less on schools and roads. JFAC improved funding for WWAMI medical students and of, course, improved K12 school funding. But let’s be honest; even with the increases for schools in the last 2 years, with student growth and inflation we still have not made up for the deep cuts in the previous years(see the graph above). I am worried about our long term commitment to education.
Finally, I tried to get all Idahoans eligible for health insurance coverage, but the majority party wouldn’t budge. Neither would they consider changing the Catastrophic Fund that pays for the uninsured. I sit on the Board that governs this $30M taxpayer funded program, and I believe lots of what we do is wasteful. But I could not get my suggestions heard. I guess the majority party likes things the way they are. I don’t; we need some changes.
Some other “projects” I worked on had to do with reducing prescription drug abuse. I have been working with all the professional boards and we are near an agreement. We also got a suicide prevention work group that will make recommendations to next years legislature. I worked with the funeral home directors to clarify a law. And I was able to successfully remove a law that made the practicing naturopaths in Idaho in violation of this statute. An interstate medical licensure compact was approved, as were the telehealth laws.
One of the greatest disappointments for me came on the last day of the session when a House committee blocked a law that insured reciprocity with other jurisdictions for the enforcement of child support. With this failure, Idaho will not be able to use the Federal system for tracking parents who owe child support, and we will lose money for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, over all at least a $30M hit to Idaho children, maybe more.
Please email or call. If you want my newsletter,add a comment and request it, with your email address. I can only do this with your help; nobody does this work alone.
Idaho State Senator Dan J Schmidt, District 5 Latah and Benewah Counties
All Comments are read but not posted.