TWIN FALLS — At a late-September campaign event, Twin Falls’ three Republican state legislators told the crowd about their work in Boise and cast themselves as practical conservatives.
“We don’t all agree on everything, but we sure think alike as far as getting to the solutions of problems,” Rep. Lance Clow told their supporters at a meet-and-greet at Canyon Crest Dining and Event Center.
Sen. Lee Heider talked about his family’s roots in Twin Falls and how he and his wife chose to come back to raise their family here after he got out of the U.S. Air Force. Heider has six children and 27 grandchildren.
“I want to see the very best for all those kids,” Heider said.
While people often call a presidential election year “the most important election of our lifetimes,” Rep. Steve Hartgen said, this one really is because it will determine who appoints the next U.S. Supreme Court justices, who helps to set the tone for the country and how the Constitution is interpreted for years to come.
“Mr. Trump was not my first choice, but I think he’ll make an excellent president,” Hartgen said.
Clow is running for re-election against Democrat Dale Varney, Heider against Deborah Silver and Hartgen against Cathy Talkington.
All three Republicans talked a bit about their work in Boise, where Hartgen is chairman of the House Commerce and Human Resources Committee and Heider chairs Senate Health and Welfare, which he called “probably one of the most criticized committees” due to controversy over Medicaid expansion.
“Quite frankly, that’s not a conservative idea,” Heider told the crowd.
Idaho, like many other Republican-run states, has not expanded Medicaid coverage as the Affordable Care Act originally envisioned. For the past few years, the state’s Democrats have advocated for Medicaid expansion and the GOP has been split, with some opposed completely and others open to getting a waiver for the state to accept the federal money and design its own system.
Last year’s session ended with the Senate passing a bill authorizing the state to apply for a waiver and then adjourning. The House voted to kill it the next day, after the Senate left town. A work group of lawmakers is studying the issue over the interim.
Clow talked about his work on the House Education Committee, another focus of attention as the state has raised education spending for the past two sessions trying to make up for cuts during the recession. The state also is implementing recommendations of the governor’s education task force.
Education, including both K-12 and higher education, makes up about 60 percent of the state’s budget. Clow said lawmakers were committed to continuing to fund the “career ladder,” a plan to raise teachers’ pay that was passed in 2015 to be phased in over five years.
Brad Wills, a local developer, asked the candidates about passing a local option tax, or an additional sales tax that voters could approve to raise money for their local governments. Currently, only a handful of resort areas are allowed to levy local option taxes. Some Twin Falls city officials have argued they should have the option too, pointing to the burden on city services created by the many residents of the surrounding area who come into Twin Falls to work and shop.
If a local option sales tax is ever to become law, Heider said, it will be a proposal similar to the one Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, has advocated. That proposal would allow cities to levy a local option tax to pay for specific projects.
“If one’s going to fly, it would be that type of solution,” Heider said.
Hartgen said some lawmakers view a local option tax a form of “taxation without representation,” because people who live in surrounding areas but shop and spend money in a city that levies one don’t have any say in the tax. Also, he said, some lawmakers worry about it creating a disparity between prices in different communities.
“There are a lot of people who are leery of the idea of raising taxes at the local level,” Hartgen said.
He said he would listen to the arguments if someone were to bring a bill creating a local option tax, but he said the House Revenue and Taxation Committee is split at least 2-1 against the idea.
“I think we should always be leery of raising taxes on people of any kind,” Hartgen said.
The crowd, which included several Twin Falls-area elected officials, was mostly friendly, with a few people thanking the lawmakers for their work and their responsiveness to people who have concerns. House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, who stopped by for a bit, praised their contributions to the Legislature.
“They’re well respected statewide,” he said.