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Posts published in March 2013

Changes ahead on Indian health

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

Three years ago, on March 23, 2010, President Barack Obama signed into law the Affordable Care Act. The bill also included the permanent authorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.

As I wrote at the time: “When Medicare and Medicaid passed Congress in 1965 and were signed into law there was no consideration – none – of how those bills impacted Indian Country. It was as if the Indian Health Service, then all federal employees, was off the books, a forgotten instrument. In fact there wasn’t even a plan that allowed IHS to tap into Medicare or Medicaid dollars. That had to wait for the Indian Health Care Improvement Act of 1976.

That is not the case with President Obama’s health care reform. Indian Country is included throughout the document in large and small measures designed to improve the health of Native people.”

Indeed, three years later, only a year before many of the most important provisions of the law begin, it’s hard to understate what this law means to the Indian health system.

Consider the money. The Indian Health Service is funded largely by appropriations. In recent years this has worked well with bipartisan support for increased funding. Since 2008 there has been a 29 percent increase in IHS funding.

But that is unlikely to continue. The appropriations process itself is, well, I’ll use the technical term here, a total wreck. So getting a logical appropriation will be less and less likely.

But the Affordable Care Act opens up revenue streams that are not appropriations, money that is, essentially, automatic. If a patient qualifies, then the money is there. This happens two ways. First, many more people will be eligible for Medicaid funding and second there will be new insurance exchanges with plans that could be purchased by both individuals and tribes, mostly, as employers. (more…)

A new highway bridge – by McDonald’s?

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

Several weeks ago, some new express lanes were added to the Washington D.C. beltway – not normally a point of interest or concern here in our little burg-in-the-Oregon-woods. Your neighborhood either, I’d guess. But, you might pay more attention if you knew who paid for those improvements and who owns them – private construction companies Flour and Transurban.

“And just why did those two private outfits put up the millions to add to our national transportation system?” you ask. “To make a profit,” sez I. “To own them,” sez I. And that worries me. A lot.

The new D.C. traffic lanes are for carpool use. But, if you’re alone, want to get out of the other four lanes and into the much lighter traffic, go ahead. After you pay the fee. For a few bucks more, you can just whiz to work alone with the carpoolers. And your money goes where? Why, Flour and Transurban, of course. After all, it’s their road now. Or, at least part of it.

One of the tenets of conservatism I’ve long agreed with is government should do the things government does best – private enterprise should do what private enterprise does well. Good balance. Philosophically and often fiscally. But the key is “balance.” And that’s too often hard to achieve.
We look to government for a sound military and conducting our national defense. But, over the last decade or so, we’ve turned over more of the responsibility for our military operations to private business. Housing, food service, construction and a lot of other formerly military-only tasks are now done in many places by civilian contractors.

You might be O.K. with that. But how about the same civilian contracting for security and fighting a war? How about the thousands of mercenaries we hire? Civilians. Is that just the same concept? Firing the bullets instead of cooking food or building a base? Killing on behalf of our government so the military can do something else?

As I said, balance.

In a more mundane way, this privately-owned highway business raises a lot of questions about who should be doing what. Historically, some level of government has always built all our highways. We have city, county, state and federal systems. We build ‘em and we maintain ‘em. We own ‘em.

But, as our various governments are pushed harder against the financial wall, they’re looking for help. Really big construction and engineering companies like Bechtel and Samsung are talking with the big – really big – banks. Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs are two – with billions in pension funds and all those insurance dollars just lying around. The idea is they put up large amounts of up-front funding, getting paid back – plus a lot of interest – by owning them and charging us for using them. (more…)

The little-known tax

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

If you're an Idaho taxpayer, you may be an Idaho tax scofflaw and not even know it.

Probably few Idahoans know about the use tax, and probably fewer pay all of it that is owed.

The use tax is a kind of counterpart to the much better-known sales tax. When you buy a product in Idaho, you are (in most cases) charged a sales tax, which the seller in turn has to forward to the state. Suppose you buy something in Oregon or Montana (or, for that matter, Alaska, Delaware or New Hampshire) – one of the five states that do not charge sales tax – and bring it back to Idaho? That can amount to significant money in the case of something like furniture or a car. That way, you can avoid sales tax and cut six percent off your cost, right?

Idaho law has considered this, and it imposes a use tax. If you buy it over the border and bring it back to Idaho to “use,” you have to pay the equivalent of the sales tax. The state is fairly rigorous on the car front, since autos used by Idahoans have to be registered in Idaho.

Generally, the use tax has to be “self-assessed,” sort of an honor system. Every now and then the Tax Commission, to which it is supposed to be paid, issues a statement on the subject. Last week, for example, it advised (in advance of income tax filings):

“Check your invoices to see whether sales tax was collected on the following purchases, which may require a use tax payment: Magazine subscriptions; Book and record clubs; Out-of-state catalog purchases; Merchandise bought over the Internet (including digital music, movies, books, games, etc.); Purchases in a state where no sales tax is charged; Untaxed purchases of merchandise from Idaho vendors. If sales tax was not collected, Idaho makes it easy for taxpayers to pay their use tax when they file their annual income tax return, which is due by April 15.  Simply total your untaxed purchases, multiply that total by .06, and enter that amount, rounded to the nearest dollar, on the appropriate line of your income tax return.” (more…)

In the Briefings

dog at legislature
 
Shelby, a dog attacked by a wolf, is accompanied in the hallway outside hearing rooms by a group of legislators.

 

In Washington, the economic picture looks a little better – not a lot, but a little – after the latest economic update came in last week. Atop that, unemployment rates seem to be holding steady too.

On Obamacare bashing

ridenbaugh Northwest
Reading

This opinion is by Duff McKee, a former Idaho district judge. He originally posted it on Facebook.

The continued diatribe from the extreme right wing, the incessant drumbeat that Obamacare must be repealed in its entirety, and the more recent attempts to emasculate or nullify the act by withholding state participation, defy reason and common sense to the point of becoming ridiculous.

The plain fact is that under any fair evaluation the Affordable Health Care Act, or Obamacare, when taken in its entirety, is a moderate compromise of policies embracing traditional values and views of both the right and the left. Obamacare is not a federal take-over of health care, it is an overhaul of health insurance. It is not an irresponsible give-away to benefit one segment of society at the expense of another, it is a compendium of moderate policies and methods to benefit all of society, methods that have long been recognized and used by both left and right. To call it Socialism or Marxism is uneducated – showing a lack of understanding of either the fundamentals of Socialism or the teachings of Karl Marx. To make these arguments pejoratively, as though the Act is an evil encroachment upon our freedom, demonstrates a blatant ignorance of how our government and economy actually work.

The plain fact is that every president beginning with Truman – both Republican and Democrat alike – has tried to secure passage of some form of universal healthcare. The parties have and do differ of aspects of policy, but both parties have long considered healthcare to be a matter of legitimate concern to the government.

Over the years we have seen the arrival of expansive programs extending government involvement into the delivery of health care, some after significant debate and others with broad bipartisan sponsorship -- Social Security’s SSI, Medicare, Medicaid, Prescription Drug Benefits, and Children Health Insurance Programs identify the main programs, but there are many more. These programs have been fully assimilated into our society and are now endorsed by both parties. There are differences, certainly, and both sides continue to propose adjustments and modifications, but with the exception of a very few extremists, nobody argues that any of these programs should be abandoned. Government participation in healthcare is here to stay as an essential ingredient of government service.

Obamacare is an exemplar of a middle-of-the-road compromise, embracing principles dear to the heart of both sides. While the overall objective of universal healthcare is a long-held liberal tenet, the framework of Obamacare may have been inspired by the national insurance plan suggested by Nixon in the 1970s. Parts of Obamacare mirror research in the late 1980s by the Heritage Foundation, a deep red conservative think tank. The concepts were fashioned into the program adopted and successfully implemented in Massachusetts in 2006, which has been operating without any of the dire consequences suggested by the right wing ever since.

Obamacare caters to the right in that it is based upon private insurance, issued by private companies, through private premiums, and with plenty of room for individual selection. The foundation of the plan continues to be employer sponsored health insurance for as many as possible. It answers the goals of the left by providing machinery to make coverage available to all through premium subsidies and expanded Medicaid. And it provides a network of regulation over the insurance industry to prevent abuse and assure availability by including such provisions as a baseline of minimum coverage, elimination of lifetime ceilings, elimination of preexisting condition exclusions, inclusion of appeal processes and other means of dispute resolution, making coverage non-cancelable, and regulating the percentage of premium dollars that can be absorbed by administration and profit.

The act does mandate compliance and impose sanctions, but this is not contrary to our society or our freedom or our theory of government. We have long had mandatory automobile liability insurance, mandatory workers compensation insurance, and the extraordinarily popular mandatory retirement insurance. We require that our young be schooled, that our minorities be treated fairly, that our workplaces be free of avoidable hazards, and that we be paid a minimum wage for our efforts. We insist on quality and safety in the milk we drink, the meat we eat, the cars we drive, the planes we fly, the new houses we buy, and the bridges we cross. Sanctions are imposed for infractions in all of these. Obamacare presents nothing new. (more…)

The cost of a lands shift

ridenbaugh Northwest
Reading

From a March 21 letter written by Boise attorney (and former legislative candidate, and former U.S. attorney) Betty Richardson to the Idaho Legislature, on two measures intended to move some lands from federal to state control.

I write with regard to HCR 21 and HCR 22, both of which pertain to transferring much of Idaho’s federally owned land to the state. HCR 21 proposes that “the legislative council appoint a committee to undertake and complete a study of the process of the state acquiring title to and control of public lands controlled by the federal government in the state of Idaho.” HCR 22 sets out findings and demands the federal government “extinguish title to Idaho’s public lands and transfer title to those lands to the state of Idaho.”

Prior to making the demand referenced in HCR 22, it would seem wise to complete the study proposed in HCR 21. Further, it would seem crucial to expand the scope of that study to include a cost analysis, calculating the likely financial return to the state, as well as the cost to the state, of assuming the many obligations for which the federal government is now responsible. The important thing in any legislative change is to be thorough and honest. If the study committee takes a careful look at the fiscal issues, the legislature may find it prudent to proceed more slowly, if at all.

My concerns arise from my seven years of experience as the United States Attorney for the District of Idaho (1993-2001). A thorough cost analysis, I believe, will find the costs of a land transfer to far exceed the financial benefits. For instance, the transfer would require a huge additional state work force – not only to manage the lands but to carry out a great many attendant responsibilities. Below I offer just a few examples.

Presently, the federal government has the primary responsibility for investigating and prosecuting criminal activity on federal land and for defending its agencies when they are sued in civil actions. If the proposed land transfer were to take place, the state would be responsible not only for managing those lands, but also for investigating and prosecuting crimes that occur there and defending the many civil suits that will continue to be filed by landowners and environmental interests alike.

Moreover, federal law enforcement plays a critical role in eradicating illegal marijuana growing operations. Last year, federal, county and local law enforcement officers took down marijuana growing operations near Galena Summit in the Sawtooth National Forest, and in Caribou and Jerome counties. The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management brought substantial resources to bear in these eradication efforts, resources that would need to be replaced by the state were a land transfer to take place. (more…)

The change that won’t be

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

“Will they try to change the pizza inside or the box it came in?”

I’ve forgotten who asked that when Republicans announced shortly after the November election defeat they’d be trying to figure out what went wrong. But now the official GOP post-mortem has been published and the question is more relevant that ever. Also easier to answer. The box.

The apparent centerpiece of the Republican Party’s new effort for 2014 is the request $10 million to be set aside to hire more staff to do “fieldwork.” The idea is to put more GOP staff on the streets and in neighborhoods to spread messages of inclusion and cooperation. Of meaningful change. Create converts, as it were. Normally a good plan.

Leadership also wants to hire a technology guru – with support staff – to try to catch Democrats in the use of polling and social media. Reince Priebus and company want a reduction in the number of presidential debates and to move the national nominating convention earlier in the year than August because the races are pretty much over by then.

I’ve read the autopsy report at length. As a plan to redesign the box the pizza came in, it’s pretty much what you’d expect. The problem is, I can’t find any recommendations for a more positive message or to eliminate the social issues that’ve angered voters and cost the GOP recent elections. No new plans for improving the quality of candidates fielded or concrete steps for real inclusion and outreach. Nothing to improve the pizza inside. It’s all remodeling the box.

There’s no mention of ending Republican-sponsored efforts to erect barriers to minority voting, for example The report talks about “connecting” with minorities. But how to you do that truthfully when the Party has been proven to be the sponsor of congressional and legislative attempts to keep minorities from the polls?

You won’t find a new, more moderate position on gay marriage, either. How do you tell the LBGT community you want to include them for their votes but you deny them access to CPAC or other Republican programs? (more…)

First take: Budget choices

news

BUDGET INTERACTIVE Should've been the state, specifically the legislature, doing this. But there's nothing wrong with the effort by the Seattle Times: An interactive that allows people to make their own choices about what the state budget should look like. Budget choices are priority choices, after all. The Times introduces its interactive this way: "State lawmakers have a big problem: The next two-year state budget faces a shortfall of up to $1.3 billion. And on top of that, the state Supreme Court has said Washington isn't meeting its obligation to fully fund basic education. Meeting that mandate could cost an additional $500 million to $1.7 billion over the next two years, depending on whom you ask. Here's your chance to decide how you would balance the state budget and increase education funding at the same time." But did they have to call it a budget "game"?

Honor

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

(Editors note: The following is condensed from remarks delivered at the retirement of the author’s cousin, Colonel F. Paul Briggs, from the U.S. Marine Corps, ten years ago.)

Thirty years ago the Briggs family turned over to the Corps a young boy. Today the Corps is handing back to us the man, and what a fine man he is. All too often in this too-fixated-on-political-correctness society we’ve become there is a tendency to denigrate the whole notion of manhood, to disparage the idea that one of life’s noblest goals is to become a real man, or a real woman, responsible and accountable for one’s actions, able to meet life’s challenges with bravery not fear, able to chart a course in a life that is worth living because it is lived for others, not just self.

Thank God the Corps understands still that one of its missions is to mold young boys, and young girls, into men and women, proud of who they are, proud of what they accomplish, proud of their country; people who know it is better to serve than be served, people who recognize that the freedoms we have are worth fighting, and yes, dying for; people who cherish notions that should never become old-fashioned, like duty and honor.

The Colonel personifies all that a Marine is and should be. He exemplifies each day the three “D’s”: Dedication, discipline and devotion.

He dedicated himself when young to becoming a Marine. I can still see him running seven to ten miles a day wherever he had to go in Pocatello, while attending Idaho State University, eschewing the notion of driving a car because he had decided he was going to be a Marine and he knew Marines are incredibly fit. And even today rather than drive to work he still eschews a car and bikes the ten miles from his home to the Pentagon. That’s dedication.

He’s always been incredibly disciplined. When backpacking in Idaho’s rugged Sawtooths, or the White Clouds, or the Bighorn Crags, each morning the routine was the same: rise early, wash up, brush and floss the teeth, shave, do your calisthenics, maintain the right appearance---no matter how far back in the wilderness we were, no matter how hot and dusty the trails had been. That’s discipline. (more…)

First take: All-voter, television

news

AUTO-REGISTRATION Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown is proposing to make Oregon the second most open state in the country as regards voting. (First: North Dakota, which requires no voter registration at all.) Brown's proposal would still require it, but automatically register everyone within certain categories; obtaining a drivers license probably would be the big one. It's unclear how many more people actually would cast ballots under this approach; but then, since Oregon's approach to ballots is to mail them out, it might in fact increase turnout a bit. The parties seem to be looking at this cautiously but not with pre-emptive disdain. The debate may be interesting; this will be fun to watch.

TELEVISION STANDARDS You do know how much impact state memorials - which are basically letters sent by a state legislature to someone else - have when they get to Washington? (The phrase "toilet paper" comes to mind.) So now the Idaho House is on record (57-13) calling on the Federal Communications Commission to more rigorously support "standards of decency" on broadcast television. Never mind that that amounts to a steadily shrinking portion of the viewing environment, an island amid the unregulated. HJM 2 may be the least efficacious piece of legislation we've seen in the Northwest this season.