A few policy subjects that seem worth a quick review, and seem timely, as the Idaho Legislature kicks into full steam for this session.
States often pay little attention what goes on in the legislatures of even their close neighbors, but Idaho might want to reflect on a vote last week in Oregon that set in motion the course of this year’s legislative session there. The vote was on whether to accept or reject a tax increase passed by the last session; a ballot issue aimed at rejecting it was proposed by several Republican House members. In the vote last Tuesday, Oregon voters statewide approved the tax increase by a landslide 61.5 percent.
What was this tax? It was a levy on certain larger hospitals and on health insurance premiums — both industries were in favor of it — as a way of helping pay for the state’s expanded Medicaid program. Rejection of the tax would have blown a billion-dollar hole in the state budget; approval meant, more or less, status quo. Health insurance for several hundred thousand Oregonians was in the balance.
That Oregon would be more amenable than Idaho to such a proposal is no shock. But the big margin of the vote in a special election — this one question was the only thing on the ballot — and the voter turnout of about 40 percent should give some pause to Idahoans thinking about how to handle Medicaid and health insurance.
Item the second: The recent column about the proposed (by Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter) change in administration of Idaho state higher education, which would involve a state “CEO” overseeing the colleges and universities, drew this e-mail inquiry, requesting an answer:
“If Otter wants to really make a move toward a ‘Chancellor’ system, why is he so timid about calling it what it is? If he doesn’t, why did he make this toothless proposal?”
The proposal has been making its way through the system, drawing an endorsement from the state Board of Education. The guess here is that it might not have if it had used the word “chancellor” (which Otter specifically disavowed).
So what’s the difference between a CEO and a (in the usual sense) chancellor, as an overseer of the system? That’s much harder to say, and Otter didn’t really seem to clarify it. The point here may be that using the one term is politically and popularly acceptable, and the other isn’t. Go figure.
Finally, a return to last week’s column about “historical horse racing.” I raised a question about how well the bettor terminals in the planned system comply with constitutional pari-mutuel requirements, which drew an emphatic response from an HHR backer that yes, it did.
He noted that, “the HHR terminals are the same as approved by the Legislature in 2012 in respect to the workings of the pari-mutuel operation and system of betting.” And, “the terminals that are proposed to be operated in Idaho are distinguishable from those that were proposed to be used Nebraska and Maryland nearly a decade ago, and can be legally and constitutionally operated in the state of Idaho. I reference Nebraska and Maryland here because AG opinions in those states were cited in the recent Idaho AG’s Certificate of Review. Again, I point out that those opinions from those states are dated and do not comport with the changes that have taken place in the HHR industry. The statutes in those states also differ from Idaho, so it’s not a true apples-to-apples comparison.”
His points (these and others) are fair and reasonable, but there’s room to rebut them too. My overall sense is that this is a complex and even technical debate, and if the Legislature goes there it should plan on spending a while in hearings to get the specifics right. Maybe as much as with health insurance.