New Session to Bring Challenges
The 62nd legislature will grapple with personal property tax, education reform and health insurance exchanges this session
The first session of the 62nd Idaho Legislature will convene January 7, 2013 and will begin with Idaho Governor Otter presenting his “State of the State Address” and his proposed budget to the members of the Idaho legislature in a joint session of the Senate and House. The Governor’s remarks will be televised over Idaho Public Television.
There is no set time for the session to end, but the normal expectation is that the legislature will attempt to adjourn by the end of March. Because the development of a balanced budget is a statutory requirement of the legislature, the length of the session is primarily dependent upon the length of the budget process. Depending on the state’s economic situation and the complexity at arriving at a balanced budget, the session can (and has) extend into a longer period. The longest session I have been involved in didn’t end until May because of the difficulty in reducing state spending to meet reduced revenues.
The Joint Finance and Appropriation Committee, of which Senator Keough and I of our legislative district serve as members, will begin the budget setting process beginning the day after the Governor’s budget recommendation to the legislature on the 7th.
We begin our work on January 8 with a review of the Governor’s recommendation followed by a review of Fiscal year 2013 and Fiscal year 2014 budget scenarios. The state agencies then begin their presentations on their budget requests on January 9. The agency hearings are scheduled to end on February 13 followed by Germane Committee Reports (Education, Health and Welfare, et.al.) on February 14 and 15.
Based on information received from the agencies, revenue forecasts and other information JFAC will then start preparing appropriation (spending) recommendations for the legislature to consider and forward to the Governor. If either the Senate, House or Governor does not support any particular agency recommendation, JFAC would have to revise that agency’s budget and resubmit it to the legislature and the Governor.
The target date for JFAC to finish its work is Friday, March 8.
In addition to agency hearings and the committee reports, JFAC will also hold two public hearings to provide the public an opportunity to input into specific agency budgets. The first of these hearings is scheduled for February 1 for the Education, Natural Resources and General Government agencies. The second is scheduled for February 8 for the Health and Human Services, Public Safety and Economic Development agencies.
During this budget process, other legislative activity will involve addressing issues that may result in new legislation or changes in existing legislation. Some of the more notable issues that could possibly result in new legislation are public education reform, Medicaid expansion, and the requirement for a state health insurance exchange system. Medicaid expansion and a health insurance exchange program are provisions in the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).
The three propositions relative to education reform were soundly defeated in the November election, but education reform remains a significant legislative issue. Governor Otter has asked the State Board of Education to hold a statewide discussion with all interested parties on public school improvement that could lead to legislation by the 2014 legislative session. However, given the interest in this issue, there could be some education reform legislation introduced in the upcoming session as well.
Under “Obamacare,” Idaho has an option to expand Medicaid benefits that could result in as much as a 39 percent increase in enrollment. A working group established by the Governor to provide input on expansion “determined that Idaho should expand its Medicaid program to best serve low-income individuals and save money.” Even though the federal government will cover the increased costs of the expansion for the first few years, there remains a concern over the final cost to Idaho when the federal government lowers its subsidy for the program. The legislature and the Governor will be addressing Medicaid expansion this session.
Again under “Obamacare,” Idaho is required to participate in a Health Insurance Exchange program implemented by the federal government, or to develop a Health Insurance Exchange program of its own. Governor Otter has recommended that Idaho develop its own health insurance exchange subject to Legislative approval. This is a highly controversial issue with some legislators not wanting Idaho to participate in a health insurance program in any form, others wanting to let the federal government implement the program and others supporting a state run program.
I will keep Journal readers informed on the progress of legislation addressing these issues as well as other issues as the session progresses.
Please feel free to contact me with your thoughts on these issues or other issues; I can be reached during the session by phone at 1-800-626-0471, by e-mail at geskridge(at)house.idaho.gov, or by mail at P.O. Box 83720, Boise, Idaho 83720-0038.
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