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Posts published in “Day: March 29, 2013”

Idaho Democrats: Medicaid decisions

ridenbaugh Northwest

From a statement on March 28 by Idaho Democratic Party Chairman Larry Kenck.

How does half a billion dollars in savings to counties and homeowners sound? How about, at the same time, we get health care to 110,000 Idahoans who don’t have it?

That is exactly what Idaho’s Democratic lawmakers have tried to do in the Capitol this year. That is exactly what our state’s GOP leaders refuse to consider. The issue is Medicaid Expansion and the GOP fears blowback from their “return to the gold standard” faction.

But, what do GOP leaders tell the public as to why they won’t make this wise policy choice? Why will they allow Idaho families to suffer the indignity and despair of poor health care when a far more humane (not mention fiscally responsible) option exists?

“We are going to be done by Friday, and I don’t think we can give that issue the thorough public vetting that it needs between now and then,” House Speaker Scott Bedke told the press. “They have my full attention, because it seems to offer very, very significant property tax relief.”

Good news!

GOP senators are just dysfunctional enough to smack down the $1.3 billion education budget at the 11th hour, giving most lawmakers nothing to do for another whole week. Now, they have plenty of time to take recommendations from months of study by a governor’s work group and take Health and Welfare Director Dick Armstrong’s word that he has the tools to make it all happen right away.

It’s not as if the GOP-controlled Legislature can’t make things happen fast if they care about something. Just last year they handed Idaho’s richest 17 percent of citizens a $35 million gift in the final days of the session.

Idaho Democratic lawmakers have pressed hard on this issue and repeatedly have been foiled by a GOP united against Idaho’s best interests.

It’s time for the GOP to stop playing the politics of appeasement to the radical-wing of their base. Businesses want this policy. Our state’s economy will benefit from this policy. Our federal taxes will remain the same even as we pay for other state’s that are wise enough to take advantage of this policy. Idaho’s children, who don’t have dental care or access to basic health services, absolutely need this policy.

My fellow Idahoans, it is up to us. Contact your legislators over the weekend. Tell them to do their jobs! Tell them to stop squandering opportunities and to stop making us pay for partisan political bickering. Tell them to expand Medicaid coverage—and then, after doing something good, tell them to go home.

Economic hits in eastern Idaho

Former Pocatello Mayor Roger Chase, left, answers a question after participating in an economic impact forum. (photo/Mark Mendiola)


mendiola MARK


With Battelle Energy Alliance and CH2M-WG Idaho eliminating hundreds of high-paying jobs in the past year with more layoffs to come at the Idaho National Laboratory, eastern Idaho’s economy has taken a major hit unlike anything it has absorbed in recent years.

The second largest employer in Idaho behind state government, INL has accounted for about 8,000 direct jobs and roughly 24,000 indirect jobs in the state, boasting a $3.5 billion total economic impact and generating about 6 percent of Idaho’s entire tax revenue.

At its peak, total INL employment once stood at 13,000. About 3.5 percent of Idaho’s total work force has been attributed to INL with one in five jobs from Pocatello to Rexburg tied to the federal nuclear research and development site, including an estimated 760 employees in Pocatello and about 1,200 in Blackfoot, not to mention the majority of INL workers in Idaho Falls.

While Bonneville County has benefited the most from the billions of federal dollars pumped into the INL over the years, Bannock and Bingham counties also have reaped lucrative cream off the top.

Pocatello, however, has suffered significant setbacks in the past year. Hoku Materials’ polysilicon plant, once considered a great boon to Bannock County’s economy, sits hauntingly vacant after hundreds of millions of dollars were invested in it and some 200 employees were terminated.

Since acquiring AMI Semiconductor in March 2008, Phoenix-based ON Semiconductor has reduced employment at its Pocatello plant – once AMI’s world headquarters – by a few hundred, but it has invested millions into sophisticated equipment at the integrated circuit fabrication site.

Heinz’ frozen food plant in Pocatello at one time surpassed the ON plant and Union Pacific Railroad as Pocatello’s largest private employer with 800 workers, but it cut 80 full-time employees this month due to eliminating a frozen food line, dropping its total employment now to about 400.

The Dodge National Circuit Finals Rodeo once pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into Pocatello’s economy in one week, attracting thousands of enthusiasts, but it trotted off to Oklahoma City in 2011 after 23 years at Idaho State University’s Holt Arena.

The Western Frontier Pro Rodeo ran in its place for two years, but as of 2013, there will be no major rodeo in Pocatello for the first time in 70 years, hurting motels, restaurants and retail stores accustomed to the annual boost in spending.

Needless to say, these daunting developments pose stiff challenges for the region’s business and government leaders. Some of those key players appeared at a well-attended March 27 economic impact panel discussion at Idaho State University and emphasized positive trends in the region, expressing optimism.

It was disclosed that evening at the forum that Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad and Bannock Development Corp. Executive Director John Regetz were in California seeking to recruit companies disgruntled by the Golden State’s rising taxes and burdensome regulations.

Allstate’s location of a customer service center in Chubbuck that employs hundreds was cited as a major coup for Bannock County. A WinCo super store recently opened and Herberger’s opened its first department store in Idaho at the Pine Ridge Mall. Canadian-based ATCO also recently located a manufacturing operation at the Gateway West Industrial Center.

Responding to questions about Hoku, former Pocatello Mayor Roger Chase and Idaho Department of Commerce Chief Economic Development Officer Gynii Gilliam explained that because Hoku was a new company engaged in new technology, the city decided it was too risky to finance the project by selling bonds. Gilliam was Bannock Development’s executive director at the time, and Chase was mayor.

Using creative financing, the city required Hoku to front the money. “If we had bonded it, we would be in big trouble right now,” Gilliam said, noting the plant was under construction for five years, greatly improving the property. “Pocatello is not out anything.”

Chase said the city owns the Hoku property and put $1 million into the project. The site’s infrastructure and equipment, including an electrical substation, are worth an estimated $30 million. All of its onsite steel will not go to waste, Chase predicted.

Chase, who chairs the Idaho Water Resource Board and serves as a consultant for the Bingham Economic Development Corporation, said one of the greatest challenges for economic developers is securing good paying jobs with benefits. Retail sales also are struggling in the region, he noted.

High commodity prices have helped the agriculture sector, and the stock market’s rise has boosted 401(k) values, creating more spendable income, Chase said. However, he noted Idaho has the highest percentage of people making minimum wage in the nation and one of the lowest average incomes per family.

After Pocatello in 2001 lost FMC’s elemental phosphorus plant that employed hundreds of workers and Union Pacific downsized its Pocatello operations, a $12-an-hour job with benefits is now considered good, he said. (more…)