The 2012 Legislature adjourned late last week, accomplishing its only constitutional duty, which is to pass a balanced budget. StateImpact Idaho’s Emilie Ritter Saunders has watched the budget process closely. Saunders told Samantha Wright there weren’t many surprises this session, but there were a couple of things that didn’t pan out, including creating a state health care exchange.
Saunders: Before session started, legislative leaders and industry groups predicted this exchange would be the biggest issue of the session. When in fact, the bill never made it to the House or Senate floors. Now, of course the fate of the entire law rests with the Supreme Court – so it’s still quite unclear what all of this will mean.
Wright: What about the other unexpected move?
Saunders: In 2011, the Legislature cut about $100 million dollars in Medicaid funding, that’s a combination of state and federal matching dollars. And this session, the Republican lead committee that made those cuts reversed a fraction of them. Lawmakers put one and a half million dollars back into the program for low-income and disabled Idahoans after hearing how the cuts had adversely affected people with dual-diagnoses who needed both mental health and development disability care. That’s a story StateImpact is watching closely to see just how the cuts and now small reinstatement will affect people.
Wright: What about jobs and the economy? There were several proposals floating around the early days of session to boost job growth – did any of those get anywhere?
Saunders: That depends on which party you talk to. The Republicans will tell you it took a step toward boosting the economy by cutting taxes for the top corporate and individual income tax payers – a cut that equals about $35 million in lost revenue for the state. And lawmakers also passed a measure to put almost $35 million of surplus revenue into the state’s rainy day account, and about $35 million toward a pay increase for teachers. Republicans did contend the tax cut may not help much, but it’s worth a shot. While Democrats say, no, that money should be used to better fund schools and some of the programs that have been deeply cut over the last few years.
Wright: Democrats did offer their own plan to boost the economy –
Saunders: Yes, it was a package of six bills they dubbed IJOBS. Those ranged from a tax credit for farmers and creating a state-private bank partnership to making tax credits the government gives to businesses more transparent. A couple of these bills were introduced, but tabled in committee. The majority of the proposals were never printed into bill drafts.
Wright: Lawmakers did pass an incentive plan with another catchy name?
Saunders: You’re talking about IGEM. That is Governor Otter’s answer to boosting innovation through a partnership with Idaho’s research universities and private business. It sets aside 5-million dollars to start the project, a figure critics say isn’t nearly enough to yield solid results. But, the governor’s office has said, hey this is a start.
Wright: That’s so much Emilie for the recap.
Saunders: You’re welcome. And be sure to watch our StateImpact blog this week as we look a little closer at some of the things that passed and failed. We’ll cover payday loans, beer and wine samples, and some new tax exemptions.