The greatest wealth is health Virgil
This was a busy week in the Statehouse. We have seen an increase in bills drafted at this point compared to prior years and it will be interesting to see how much of this activity is realized while majority leadership insists on maintaining a short, election-year session.
On Wednesday, over 300 citizens showed up to participate in the hearing for Senator Dan Schmidt's Healthy Idaho bills, 99% of whom were supportive. Despite this turnout, the chairman allotted only 60 minutes which accommodated just a handful of speakers. We heard from family practice and critical care doctors, a hospital lobbyist, officials from city and county governments and patients. They all testified in favor of extending insurance coverage to the 78,000 working poor currently suffering, and too often needlessly dying, due to inadequate access to care. There is ample economic incentive for Idaho to redesign Medicaid to cover all citizens, but at the end of the day, our decision should be made based on good policy. We should do this simply because it is the right thing to do.
Also on Wednesday, the House passed a tax-cut bill which has been referred to my Local Government & Taxation Committee. However, Chairman Jeff Siddoway has publically stated that he will not consider the measure until he is satisfied with the state's commitment to funding education in keeping with Governor Otter's directive. For the curious, here is an analysis of the proposed cuts by the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy but I will withhold further comment unless the Senate gives this proposal a hearing.
The Senate passed S1229 which helps Idaho businesses by conforming to the lifting of federal restrictions on interstate transit for trucks weighing up to 129,000 lbs. The Idaho Transportation Department conducted a 10-year study that shows no significant impact on infrastructure or safety but I still have concerns about both when these oversize trucks inevitably exit the interstate on to local roads. Furthermore, in the face of a remaining annual shortfall of $165.3 million for infrastructure maintenance, we must hold the trucking industry accountable for their fair share of costs.
On Thursday, the joint Democratic caucuses unveiled our six-point plan for the 2016 legislative session (and well beyond) entitled Creating Opportunity: A Balanced Plan for Idaho's Future. We believe a better future for Idaho can be achieved by promoting educational investments, economic fairness, government accountability, respect for our natural resources, security for seniors and enhanced voter access. The bills already introduced to advance this agenda include tuition stabilization and reimbursement tax credits, universal broadband, fairness in the minimum wage and tax exemptions, promoting Idaho businesses, senior workforce development, absentee and online voting, pre-k funding, and state government oversight (not yet introduced). A link to the full plan is available through this news blog. I welcome your feedback on this platform designed with current and future generations in mind.