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Inside Politics: Protecting Idaho from dangerous invaders

Benjamin Franklin famously said that a “penny saved is a penny earned.” This centuries-old wisdom is relevant today in Idaho where Democrats and Republicans are working together to fight the single most potentially devastating foreign invader of our state: Zebra and Quagga Mussels.

That may not be the invader you were expecting, but it’s true. Zebra and Quagga Mussels threaten Idaho’s waterways, electrical infrastructure and agricultural communities. If they make it into our rivers, lakes and streams they will devastate Idaho waters and cost over $90 million dollars every year to deal with. While the Idaho legislature has taken some important first steps in combating this menace, more work is needed.

Zebra and Quagga Mussels are not native to the United States. They were introduced to the Great Lakes region by cargo ships from the Black Sea. From there, this invader moved west into Arizona, Nevada, Utah and most recently Montana. These mussels can reproduce a million times over in a year. They are sharp and course and can attach themselves to infrastructure, wedge themselves into hydro-electric machinery and spread into irrigation pipes. They also ruin beaches in short order. To call them an existential threat to Idaho is an understatement.

We call the Zebra and Quagga Mussels foreign invaders because the biggest threat to Idaho comes from boaters who (1) travel from out of state to Idaho or (2) travel to infested waters and then come back into Idaho. For example, Lakes Mead, Powell and Havasu are already infested. Boaters who travel to those waters pick up Quagga Mussels in their bilge water (whether they know it or not), or the mussels attach directly to the boats. Once that happens, the boats transport the mussels to other states to infest new waters. For now, Idaho’s only line of defense is our 19 boat-check stations at our borders.

During the past session, the House and Senate passed two bipartisan bills that become law July 1, 2017. The first bill raises the out-of-state boat tag fee from $22 to $30. The extra money will be used for prevention efforts. The second piece of legislation approved a $3 million increase in the Department of Agriculture budget, primarily to fund boat check stations. These bills were the result of the work of a bi-partisan working group, but more needs to be done.

The federal government has jurisdiction over Lakes Mead, Powell and Havasu, three of the most infested waterways in the west. They need to take responsibility for the watercraft that navigate those waters. Any boats coming out of infested waters should be inspected by the feds before they leave. In addition, Idaho’s Department of Agriculture needs to work with state, federal and tribal agencies to make sure boats do not enter our state with viable Quagga Mussels. Finally, the state of Idaho needs to appropriate enough resources to keep our state check stations open on a 24-hour basis. As it stands now, most Idaho inspection stations are open dawn to dusk. While our state officials do a great job, there are too many boaters who cross into the state after dark who risk exposing our state to the Quagga Mussel.

We understand that Idaho is a conservative state but preventing this species from destroying our waterways is worth the investment. It will be far cheaper to spend the money now on prevention than to deal with the consequences later. A few million dollars spent today could prevent a hundred million dollars per year in economic damage down the road. “A penny saved is a penny earned.” This is good advice. However, when it comes to keeping the Quagga Mussel out of Idaho, pinching pennies is bad policy. We need to invest more to prevent this problem from infesting the waters in our state.

Other View: Politicians are not powerless to lead

The following editorial appears on Bloomberg View:

As Republicans in Washington contemplate the uncertain fate of their health-care bill over the July 4 recess, they might consider recent events in another legislature on the opposite coast of America.

Earlier this month, Democrats in the California state senate passed their own big, bold, bad health-care bill. The legislation would have required the state government to supplant insurers, providing health insurance to all residents and negotiating medical costs with hospitals, doctors and other providers.

There were a few complications. Most notably, the bill lacked a source of funding, and its estimated cost — some $400 billion — was more than twice the state’s annual budget. In effect, the senate had passed single-payer legislation without ensuring a single payer.

Gov. Jerry Brown, D, was not impressed. A state-based single-payer system, he said, took one problem — lack of affordable access to health insurance — and made it into an “even a bigger problem.” The state assembly essentially agreed. Last week Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon shelved the legislation, despite pressure from liberal interest groups and the vocal followers of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

There are at least two lessons to draw from this episode. The first is that Democrats are not immune to the kind of ideological pressure that has all but squeezed moderation out of the Republican Party in Washington. A single-payer system may well make more sense than the public/private mandate-and-subsidy system embodied by Obamacare (and its proposed replacement, by the way). But California, already a high-tax state, is in no position to establish a comprehensive single-payer system — and it’s better to acknowledge reality than to pretend legislative wishes come true.

The second lesson is that, despite such pressures, politicians are not powerless to lead. They can say no. Republicans in Washington, who now stand on the brink of denying access to health care for millions, have no obligation to follow through on a project borne of an excess of partisanship. They can pull back from an unreasonable bill and prevent its inevitable harm.

Republicans in Washington, in other words, can still do what Democrats in California did: Just walk away. And don’t come back until you have something better.

Idaho View: Rural Idaho's love for Trump goes unrequited

This ran in the Lewiston Tribune on Monday:

Among those living in Trump Country are some true-blue patriots who believe it’s their obligation to do without for the common good of “making America great again.”


But why sacrifice their kids?

Idaho County voted 78.3 percent for President Donald Trump. Not far behind was Clearwater County, which gave the president 74.5 percent of its support.

Yet both counties — as well as much of Trump’s rural Idaho base — are about to get clobbered by his budget and the Republican health care package.

That’s because, as the Medicaid expansion advocacy group Close the Gap Idaho noted, rural Idaho will bear the brunt of the GOP’s plans to curtail Medicaid.

Although Idaho’s GOP-led Legislature has declined to extend Medicaid coverage to about 78,000 low-income adults, the program offers a lifeline to 169,600 Idaho children who are living in poverty or near-poverty.

About 73 percent of Idaho’s Medicaid clients are children whose families subsist at 185 percent of the federal poverty rate — about $44,955 for a family of four — or less.

The rest of Idaho’s program goes to support about 19,200 indigent seniors and 43,700 disabled citizens.

The reason is simple: You’ll find a disproportionate number of struggling families in rural Idaho. A good indication of poverty is the free and reduced lunch program. For instance, roughly half the students in the Mountain View School District qualify for this help; in the Salmon River district, it’s up to 63 percent.

Likewise, nearly 58 percent of Orofino’s students qualify for free and reduced lunch.

So is it any wonder that in each county, 49 percent of the children rely upon Medicaid?

Contrast that with Teton County, where 38 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced lunch and only 30 percent of the children need Medicaid.

Teton County, by the way, narrowly backed Trump by a 43.5 percent plurality.

Likewise, Blaine County relies on Medicaid to help about 34 percent of its children. And Blaine County is blue; it supported Hillary Clinton by 59.8 percent.

Medicaid is under threat because the House-passed American Health Care Act would yank $834 billion from the program during the next decade.

Subtract another $627 billion from Medicaid in a decade’s time if Trump’s budget were enacted.

It adds up to more than $1 billion in losses to Idaho Medicaid as well as a 20 percent cut in the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which provides additional help to children of Idaho’s working poor.

Given such losses, Idaho would face three choices — raise taxes, draw money from public and higher education or withdraw support from Medicaid recipients.

That’s no choice at all. Medicaid will draw the short straw.

When that happens, people facing health care crises will turn to the county medically indigent program and state Catastrophic Health Care fund. When hospitals and health care providers go unpaid for helping the poor, they’ll shift the bills to people who still have health insurance.

There’s also a good chance children without access to ongoing preventive care will fall through the cracks.

And what good comes from this?

Will this kind of sacrifice from the people of rural Idaho at least bear fruit in the form of a balanced federal budget and a lower national debt?

Not on your life.

The beneficiaries of repealing former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act are those who are paying higher taxes under it — the rich, insurance companies and pharmaceuticals. They’ll save more than $660 billion during the next 10 years.

And if Trump’s tax reform package becomes law, those at the upper income brackets will benefit the most. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, each of America’s 400 richest households would save $7 million a year.

In other words, kids in rural Idaho will go without regular health care so that some of America’s most comfortable individuals will get even more comfortable.

Meekly going along with that is not being patriotic.

It’s being idiotic.