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Posts published in January 2017

Idaho Briefing – January 23

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for January 23. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at stapilus@ridenbaugh.com.

As a new administration takes power in Washington, the Idaho Legislature kicks into gear and introduces legislation at a somewhat faster rate than its members did a year ago.

The Bureau of Land Management has signed a Record of Decision to authorize routes for the final two segments of the Gateway West transmission line project, which connects the Hemingway substation in southwest Idaho with power generation facilities in central Wyoming. The project will address congestion problems within the Western electrical grid, facilitate the renewable energy market, especially wind energy in Idaho and Wyoming, and aid in delivering that energy to the region.

Idaho's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropped to 3.7 percent in December – after five straight months at 3.8 percent.

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter said on January 20 that the State of Idaho’s official website, idaho.gov, has a new design and significantly improved functionality.

Senator Jim Risch, chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, provided opening remarks at the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing, Improving Small Business Input on Federal Regulations: Ideas for Congress and a New Administration.

A regional cold snap drove loads, or power demand, in the Bonneville Power Administration’s balancing authority area to high levels – topping out on Friday, January 6 at 10,943 megawatts. The balancing authority area is the electrically-defined “geographic” unit within which BPA’s Transmission Services Operations team balances the supply and demand of electricity on an ongoing real-time basis.

PHOTO The Idaho National Laboratory has had five supercomputers recognized on the TOP500 list, which originated in the early ’90s. The new Falcon supercomputer initially made the list in November 2014, and has maintained a position on subsequent lists. The supercomputer advanced in the current rankings as recent processor upgrades improved the operating capabilities of Falcon. Operating with more than 25,000 cores and 122 terabytes of memory, Falcon supports the needs of over 400 users – spanning the lab, national universities, other DOE labs and industry partners. (photo/Idaho National Laboratory)

Paths upward

stapiluslogo1

The allegations by Idaho state Representative Heather Scott that female legislators get ahead at the Statehouse by exchange of sexual favors has continued to go viral. Last week, the speed may have slowed with her apology to the House.

Scott in any event was wrong: Her contention has never been the path to advancement for female legislators in Idaho, or I suspect many other legislatures. I’ve never heard evidence of a specific Idaho case or even a rumor of one. Affairs between legislators? That’s nothing new (though the headlines about it are a new wrinkle). Back in the 70s the reporter corps would occasionally snicker at lawmaker couples who thought they were undiscovered but weren’t. But those activities usually have held legislators back more than advanced them.

There’s also been talk that the pulling of committee assignments from Scott had to do with her ideology.

Nonsense. Ideology hasn’t been a blocking point for legislators past, or present.

Asked about moving on up, Representative Stephen Hartgen said, “I’ve been here almost 10 years. People get ahead here on the basis of merit, in my humble opinion. I’ve never seen anything that would cause me to question that premise.”

Well … Sometimes legislators do become influential on specific subjects (say, the budget, or health care, or water law) when they have a strong expertise in it. But influence at the legislature usually comes down to other things. In this cynical era, when the darkest possible explanation often is the most easily believed, a quick look at what does yield Idaho legislative influence seems in order.

Seniority, probably foremost. Most committee chairs (which generally are important posts) usually go to the senior member of the majority party who doesn’t already have another chairmanship or leadership post, or (sometimes) isn’t on the budget committee. Seniority weighs heavily on the committees.

Personality does matter, and so do personal relationships. The legislature is a little “in-a-bubble” society. Legislators learn who they can trust and who they can’t, who will come through in a tough spot and who might cave, and who is essentially decent and fair-minded and who could use a little more of those qualities. There are plenty of personal friendships in the legislature, and that can affect a lot of votes. Legislators who develop strong friendships easily can be important in the legislature, whatever their other qualities. A vote for someone to lead the caucus often comes down to those kind of personality factors: Who am I comfortable with, and who can I trust?

Sometimes the flip side can apply as well: Committee spots and other goodies sometimes have been said to be horse-traded in return for leadership votes. So a skillful deal-maker can advance as well.

What kind of group are you in? Is it large enough to have decisive influence? Democratic legislators are, in their two caucuses, part of small groups, and so often have little influence. If the majority Republicans are split, however, the Democrats' unified caucuses can matter. The same goes for the various factions within the Republican caucuses, some of them based on personalities or backgrounds (veteran watchers still recall “Sirloin row” in the Senate) and some based around issues or ideology.

Many a veteran legislator has remarked on how the legislature is a study in people. If someone rises toward the top, or is slapped down, look there first for the explanation.

The rural economic back story

schmidt

Senator Keough is right, small towns in Idaho need help.

Dialing in the details of the Tax Reimbursement Incentive (TRI) to suit smaller marketplaces is an appropriate move. This graph of population in the North Central region of Idaho gives you a sense of what small towns face. There are seven regions in Idaho; subtract South West (Boise) and then you can multiply this effect by six.

But I want to tell you the history of this legislation, so maybe you can understand why Idaho government is not functioning "at the speed of business" as former Idaho Director of Commerce, Jeff Sayer used to say was his goal.

The TRI started as a brainchild of Roy Lacey (D Pocatello) and Donna Pence (D Gooding) when they were in the Idaho House. The idea was to give companies who come to Idaho and start a business that pays more than the average salary a tax incentive that they could collect later if their promised development pans out. He initially proposed it to promote value added jobs in agriculture in 2012 and 2013. It got good reception from Commerce, the Governor’s office and some committee members, but the House Majority Leader Mike Moyle and Wayne Hoffman came out against it as “picking winners and losers”. It got killed.

Still, Roy worked all summer of 2013 with Sayer and rewrote the idea to include all businesses, based on a Utah model already in place. But Roy and Donna knew the slant of the field they were playing on.

So Sayer took the bill, with the Democrats blessing, to Moyle for the 2014 session and he agreed to sponsor. And it passed! Wayne Hoffman still hates it. But this shows that the Idaho Capitol is not quite the “arena of ideas” Speaker Bedke wants it to be. It seems that whose idea it is, or maybe the party affiliation of the person with the idea has influence.

Shame on us that our representatives are not there to do the peoples work, but instead find party affiliation as a prejudice to the common good. It may be no accident that both Donna and Roy retired from the legislature this last year. I question whether the partisan nature of the legislature serves Idaho.

Is this reflected in small towns? I have heard many constituents in these close communities express reluctance to acknowledge minority party affiliation. I can’t blame them. I’ve lived in this culture. And I’ve also seen minority party members dismiss any idea coming from the other side.

Such stances almost seem tribal. I hope we don’t start hacking each other’s arms off. It’s bad enough that we kill good ideas.

Starting at the top

carlson

Idaho is a state that historically has elected governors and senators from the pool of veteran politicians - mostly men who have served in previous public offices.  There’s a sense that this pool has been vetted already and passed muster by virtue of prior election.
 
Of the ten men who served as governors during the last 70 years (The modern era beginning in 1946 up to the present), only two had not had previous service in the Idaho Legislature.  Those two, Dirk Kempthorne and Robert Smylie, had been elected to other public offices, however: Kempthorne had been mayor of Boise and a United States senator; and, Smylie had been elected  attorney general.
 
The times they are a’changing, though, and it could be a matter of time until Idahoans go for a no previous public service, non-politician as governor.  After all, the nation has elected its first non-previous office-holder, non-Army general to the presidency.
 
A recent review of the nation’s governors and those running in 2018 by Larry Sabato, the reigning guru of the nation’s political pundits (He heads up the University of Virginia’s Public Policy Institute), was a possible peek into the future.  To the surprise of traditionalists the phenomena of starting at the top, with money, especially one’s own, coupled with an ability to talk intelligently about the issues while proclaiming yourself to be an outsider, or a business man, or an anti-government, anti-regulation agitator appears to be a seductive siren song to voters.
 
Sabato’s survey revealed 13 of the nation’s 50 states are already being governed by folks with no previous experience in public office.
 
Heretofore it was Idaho’s Democratic party that was offering up aspirants for governor with no previous experience:  A. J. Balukoff in 2014, Keith Allred in 2010, Jerry Brady in 2006 and 2002.  All, of course, lost.
 
Now, however, Idaho’s Republicans may offer up as their 2018 gubernatorial nominee an individual with no previous elective office experience.  Republican circles are abuzz with the news that Tom Ahlquist, a wealthy M.D. and the local face of Salt Lake City’s Gardner Corporation, the leading developer of high rise office buildings in downtown Boise, is telling friends and partners he will be a candidate.
 
He also is reportedly ready to spend several million dollars. He is a member of the LDS Church in good standing and there is speculation  Ahlquist will win the support of eastern Idaho billionaire Frank VanderSloot, the chairman and CEO of Melaleuca Corporation.
 
If such an alliance is established it will more than compensate for the fact that Ahlquist has virtually no history of working with the State party.
 
Primaries with more than three entries are historically difficult to predict.

With Representative Raul Labrador telling his friends and supporters he is headed home to run for governor, Lt. Governor Brad Little has to be smiling.  In theory, former state Senator Russ Fulcher and Labrador will split the Tea Party vote, Ahlquist might win the southeast’s heavily LDS counties, but Little will win seven of the ten largest voting counties.
 
Little though, is going to have to win it; he is not going to inherit the office.  The likelihood of Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter receiving an appointment in the Trump Administration is slim and none.
 
Otter is viewed as a johnny-come-lately by Trump supporters in Idaho.  It is no coincidence he was passed over in the contests for Interior, Agriculture and International Trade.  His ego would not let him accept a lesser position.
 
Idaho, according to a veteran Republican advisor, does not share national sentiment regarding right direction/wrong direction, which he believes works in Brad Little’s favor.  He points out that question begins almost all polls and Idahoans tell pollsters the country is headed in the wrong direction, but Idaho is headed in the right diretion.
 
Outsiders like Ahlquist do better when people believe their state is headed in the wrong direction.  When people are satisfied with the way things are a non-previously elected candidate has a much tougher time.
 
Reading between the lines he is saying put your money on the “steady eddie” in the group, Brad Little, and the others, in particular Tom Ahlquist, no matter how much he may spend, would be a losing wager.
 
Labrador’s apparent decision to come home will set off a stampede of candidates. The early favorite has to be former Lt. Governor and Attorney General David Leroy.  Still sharp, charming, well conditioned and vigorous, he has better name id and a cadre of both new and veteran supporters who he has kept in touch with while traveling the district to give his speech on President Lincoln’s impact on Idaho.
 
Other aspirants are thought to be former Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, and State Representatives Brent Crane, Luke Malek and Brandon Hixson.

Note: Corrected to remove reference to Robert Huntley in list of candidates without previous government experience. He served in the legislature and was elected to the Supreme Court before running for governor.

Go find a clipboard

mckee

Enough. It has been over two months since that awful Tuesday in November, and that’s enough.

The time has come for the liberals, the progressives, the middle-of-the-roaders, the independents, the never-Trump faction, the anybody-but-Trump crowd, the Hillary believers, the Bernie supporters, and all their fellow travelers and hangers-on who have been wringing their hands in disbelief and wallowing in their grief, to put away their mourning clothes, take down the black crepe and the shrouds from their mirrors, throw out the lilies and funeral wreaths, and settle down to business.

Stop the incessant search to find and place blame. Quit being mad at history and the arcane Constitutional rules we have lived with for over 225 years. Give up feeling sorry for everybody and everything, as though the country did not do this to itself. The continuous re-examinations of trivial details, the incessant searching about for someone or something to blame, the collection and passing around of sarcastic memes and petty examples of Trump’s atrocious behavior, all may be cathartic, and certainly we must learn from past mistakes, but there comes a time when much of it is no longer productive.

When we have become stuck in the ruts, when we are not opening up anything new but just working the ruts deeper, when the eyes begin to glaze on those pretending to listen, or worse, when they roll – its time to reassess. The first law of holes says when you realize you are in one, stop digging. Take the time to take a hard look at reality, place the circumstances into perspective, accept the inevitable, and then shift gears and get to work on new or different steps that might help.

None of this means that anyone should accept without question or comment anything that Trump or the Republican Congress plans to propose. To the contrary, everything that has come out of the Trump crowd, and all propositions from the leadership of the new Congress, clearly indicate difficult times ahead in both foreign and domestic policy.

There is much to be done as the new Republican era unfolds. There is still a significant Democratic presence in the Senate, and history has long established that when one party controls everything, discipline within that party becomes much more difficult. It is not certain that the Republicans will be able to run roughshod over everything sacred to the progressive interests. History teaches that cracks will appear in the majority party structure, and factions will begin to erupt. This means that the more controversial changes will arrive more slowly than expected, and might even become derailed.

One early hint that the Republicans may not always speak with one voice was the sudden u-turn by the House on its very first day over what was intended to be a new rule on ethics enforcement. The hard-right cabal of the Republican caucus thought it could ram-rod through a measure that had some uneven support within the party. They were caught short by reversals within the party, no doubt helped by a one-line tweet from Trump. The combination effectively knee-capped the effort, and the rule change was taken off calendar before the Speaker gaveled the new Congress to order.

Of more significance are the grumblings that are beginning to surface from a number of Republicans – and from Trump – dissatisfied with the plan to repeal Obamacare without having the promised replacement ready to go. While it is premature to hold out much hope, signs are beginning to appear that any transition away from essential parts of Obamacare is not going to happen for years – if ever.

Informed, relevant, consistent and loud comment against future protestations of President Trump and his Congress from opposition interests can be a valuable contribution to help ensure that Trumps’ stuff will not necessarily happen easily, or some of it even at all. Where something does happen over a solid drumbeat of contrary opinion, it might take considerably more time and require considerably more political capital, both on the part of Trump and the members of Congress to bring it off, and the final enactments may bear very little resemblance to the original grandiose promises made by Trump during the campaign. One cannot expect miracles or any complete turn-arounds, but the actual arrival of what some consider the worst of these promised actions may not be anywhere near as bad as it might appear from the inception, if the opposition is carefully organized.

If those opposed to these Republican measures will keep their wits about them, impose some degree of selectivity in their reactions, take much better aim for arguments and counter measures being suggested, and impose upon themselves much tighter organization for the effort required, much will be gained in the immediate effects on Congress. But continuing to replay the November catastrophe, and beating everybody up over the gory remains is not the way to advance constructive and protective criticism against the onslaught of new Republican programs down the road.

While traditional opposition is in the form of media commentary and direct communication with members of Congress, the internet is now playing a much more central role. Trump is demonstrating the power to be found in Twitter accounts. By liking, sharing and republishing items on Facebook, Twitter and the like, waves of demonstrated interest can be created that present a powerful picture of opinion-formation among us all.

In the longer run, the mid-terms are less than two years off, and the next presidential is less than four. The entire political climate can begin to change with the mid-terms, and certainly with the next presidential in 2020. Any change is going to demand planning and preparation, and the time to start is now.

The Republicans presently in Congress are already beginning to campaign for the mid-terms. If the Democratic machinery is not started right now to raise money, recruit candidates, and shape the process for the future, the party will find itself hopelessly behind the Republicans in those districts where the Democrats might have a chance of becoming competitive.

The same can be said for the Presidential race in 2020. There is not an obvious Democratic front runner yet. There is no machinery to assist in the selection and vetting of acceptable candidates. There is not even a credible list of potential wanna-bes. (This is not to say that there are not any number of lists floating around; everybody inside the beltway has a list, all one has to do is ask – but this is the same as no list at all.) If the Democrats wait until the spring of 2019 to begin their serious efforts for candidate selection, they will be almost three years’ behind the Republicans’ campaign to keep the White House for themselves. The battle lines are already forming for the contests in 2018, and the main event in 2020 will be here anon.

If the Democrats do not get themselves organized in a timely manner, and do not begin pulling together on some of these critical issues, the arrogant pretender may well be held in place for a full eight years. As President Obama told us all in his going-home address from Chicago:

Don’t whine, don’t cry and don’t blame – go find a clipboard and get busy.

The logjam breaks

rainey

People who write and people who compose music share a common challenge. Both start with a blank page to be filled with words or notes of expression. For some of us, that’s the toughest challenge. How and where to begin.

Since our November election - and for the first time in over 50 years in some form of journalism - I’ve been stumped. Unable to begin. Unable to meet the first rule of both writing and musical expression - to begin. To express. To undertake and overcome challenges of dealing with a given set of facts. In my case, election of D. Trump.

I’ve tried. Were the computer screen replaced with pages of white copy paper, and the keyboard with pen or pencil, the wastebasket near my desk would be filled to overflowing. Several times. Unable to begin. Unable to capture necessary words to coordinate thoughts and message.

I’ve previously expressed admiration for Ridenbaugh Press Prop. Randy Stapilus for undertaking - and completing - 100 columns of 100 reasons why Trump should not be President of these United States. He did so prior to the election as a countdown series. Clearly, articulately, well-researched and professional. I don’t know anyone else who could have accomplished such a task.

Now, on the eve of swearing in the most unqualified and unfit person as President in our modern history, the logjam of my own thoughts - kick-started by a forced reality - have broken the intellectual logjam. Perspective, I’d guess, of time and distance.

Trump scares the Hell out of me. He does so for all the political ignorance he represents - constant lies, a lack of skills of reasoning, judgment, ability to articulate in an intelligent manner and his massive ego. Yet he seems more a symptom than the cause of our national sickness. A by-product of our many national divisions.

If, in the next four years, his many character flaws don’t kill us all in some vain attempt to assuage his immature personality needs, he’ll eventually be swept off the world stage and into the oblivion he rightly deserves. If the nation survives - and I believe it will - there’ll be far worse issues to be solved.

In just the last few years, our nation has arrived at a “point-of-no-return,” ceasing to be the type of Republic we were raised in. We’ve turned a corner to something else. Permanently. The word “union” no longer describes the relationship of the various states. Politics, ignorance, disgraceful actions of corporations and the billionaires who own them, racism, sexism, misogyny, false allegiances and fear of the future are separating the 50 states more distinctly than the North/South of 155 years ago.

We’ve become immersed in “globalism” which is our new reality, forcing all nations to adopt new ways of doing almost everything. Many changes are often undertaken more for survival and benefit of corporate interests and less for the survival and benefit of whole countries. Our nation is no longer the leading producer of goods or “things” but is now a leader in “services.” Creation of middle class jobs to replace those lost when we were a “producer” nation, hasn’t kept pace with exporting other jobs. Companies now chase international profits rather than just those at home.

Many state and national laws are now written to please narrow interests rather than a need to address an issue. We’re seeing the use of faux “religious” intent on the part of minorities to control the majority i.e. abortion, same sex marriage. We see smaller, more narrowly focused zealotry invading our political system. Organized Western religions are losing adherents.

We’ve lost the “melting pot” dimension that made us great and so much more diverse than nearly any other country. We separate, cluster, fend off differences, create boundaries and make exclusive communities rather than welcome and honor our many heritages.

National politics has turned from civic service to continued “career” employment. Collegiality, comradery, willingness to compromise have been replaced with strict party divisions regardless of effects on the citizenry. Determined ignorance has overcome research, study, enlightenment and a willingness to learn. Scientists and researchers are being handcuffed and ignored. Personal pursuit of riches has overcome service to constituency. Service to self denies service to others.

We start or enter wars without due declaration, putting the burden of living sacrifice on others while requiring no personal sacrifice of ourselves. We fill our political bodies - and our media - with minutia while ignoring needs government was created to serve. We allow millions of citizens to suffer from lack of human necessities of food and housing while enriching those who live in mansions.

We’re ill-served by a failed media - poorly trained and seemingly dedicated to ratings and corporate enrichment rather than informing and enlightening. We listen to - and legitimize - gossip, hate, division, racism and division. We’re directed to focus on what separates us - not what unites us.

There’s more. Much more. Trump didn’t manufacture it. He didn’t invent it. He used it. He spread the ignorance, subjugated truth to lies, sowed division rather than unity. He lied. He manufactured whatever twisted logic was necessary to feed those willing to follow. He ignored law, protocol, truth and even the basics of decent behavior to accomplish his ends. He’s a symbol of the divisions, malaise and distortions we’re living with. He didn’t create ‘em. He simply used ‘em.

Our nation - divided and about to be without a leader of honest character - is stronger, more civilized, richer and more accomplished than this political vagrant. Our national survival is assured. His is not. Our pages are filled with words. His remain blank.

If they build it

stapiluslogo1

Not often, but sometimes, the old line “if you build it, they will come,” actually does pan out.

It did at the College of Western Idaho. CWI became a reality over the objections of a significant number of skeptics.

Boise was, before then, either the largest or at least one of the largest metro areas in the United States without a community college. But then, people asked, why did it need one? It already had Boise State University, which had been growing at weed levels for a quarter-century. On the private side, the College of Idaho and Northwest Nazarene College (now University) were nearby.

What was missed was the large number of people who wanted a community college, who would attend if one were available. BSU and the private colleges have needed roles, but they are relatively expensive and, for people looking for occupational training rather than a full liberal arts education, a little forbidding. There’s a big chunk of the Idaho population that hasn’t and won’t make the direct transition from high school to college.

These people had no strong political voice; they weren’t much heard from in the halls of the Statehouse. But over time the business people who lacked a force of trained workers were heard. For decades the idea of a community college floated, bobbed along, but never reached shore.

About a decade ago sufficient gravitational mass in favor of it – financial, organizational, political – pushed it ahead. (The campaign in favor featured pictures of prospective students and used the advertising tag line, “Give us a chance.”) The vote to create a new taxing district to support the college needed a two-thirds vote, and it barely passed, even with help from influential people in the area including Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter.

Back then, the thinking was that CWI would be a small institution, serving maybe a few thousand students. If it didn’t flop. Initial enrollment in 2009 was 1,100. Last year, seven years later, it hit 24,265. Don’t be surprised if that figure eventually doubles.

Okay, that’s the past. Cast your eyes now to Idaho Falls.

That eastern Idaho city does already have a college, Eastern Idaho Technical College. It’s a useful institution too, with low costs, but limited in its size and scope. Its enrollment is fewer now than CWI’s was when it opened. It needs the breadth a community college, like CWI or North Idaho College or the College of Southern Idaho, all of which have much larger enrollments (and in the latter two cases, in smaller cities), could bring.

The push to transition EITC to a community college (the College of Eastern Idaho, to round out the compass points) has been underway for a while. But now it may have gotten that added bit of momentum.

A governor’s statement that something ought to happen is by no means always enough, as any governor could tell you. But in this case it could be important. In his state of the state address last week, Otter linked the CWI experience to the push for an eastern community college in what could be a strong kickstart.

The legislature already threw in $5 million in seed money (which it did in advance of CWI, too).

Then Otter added, “Now the people of Bonneville County must decide at the polls in May whether to invest in their own future by advancing plans to provide better opportunities for students and families, for those looking to improve their career readiness, and for businesses looking to locate or expand. After seeing the difference that the College of Western Idaho has made here in the Treasure Valley, after seeing how quickly CWI has grown to meet pent-up demand for new educational opportunities, and after seeing the overwhelmingly positive response from employers, the College of Eastern Idaho campaign has my full and enthusiastic support.”

That may help push some wary voters over the line.

Idaho’s economy to come

schmidt

As EORAC (The Economic Outlook and Revenue Assessment Joint legislative Committee) starts it’s meeting for this year, I am reminded of a comment by a fellow member a few years back.

EORAC is tasked with recommending a revenue projection to JFAC so a budget can be set for the coming year. Idaho’s Constitution, like many states, mandates that government may spend no more each year than it takes in. Idaho tax revenue is of course mainly dependent on sales tax and income tax. Property taxes (also about a third of the Idaho tax burden) mainly go to local governments. Income and consumer activity is quite dependent on the economic climate, so the committee listens to many experts discuss their weather predictions for the coming year.

When we heard from Idaho Department of Labor in 2014, House Speaker Scott Bedke seemed surprised by Idaho low wages. At that time Idaho had the highest percent of minimum wage earners (now we are 49th), and the lowest average wage in the country (still 50th). The Speaker asked that the numbers be repeated to the legislators for emphasis and suggested we consider our policy actions to address this. He’s right; our state leaders should understand this predicament.

But it’s not news. This has been a long time coming.

This paper provides a good analysis of each sector. Interestingly, when I have had this discussion with Republicans who will talk to me about this, they point to 1980’s as when environmental pressures hurt logging and mining. But those Idaho jobs actually pay above the national average and have for the last 30 years. Health care workers have driven this decline the most; their pay has lagged and the sector has grown.

So why hasn’t the market solved this for us? You’d think businesses would want to come to a place where the workers get paid less, then as demand for workers increases, the pay would also. Idaho has had some ups and downs, but overall the 30 year trend is swirling the drain. State Impact Idaho tried to get people’s attention about this issue 4 years ago. They did a great job, but it sure didn’t fire up any voter outrage.

The consequences we see of this trend are that bright young folks are leaving the state for better employment opportunities elsewhere and older, gray haired, fixed income folks are coming in to take advantage of the low pay. Such a demographic change will have a long influence on the economy, and the politics.

A further consequence, since we started talking about revenue, is that since people make less, the state collects less revenue to pay for schools and other services. If incomes rose, we could actually lower the tax rate and still get enough revenue to do the work the state should be doing.

So what should policy makers do? First, I would wonder if any see this as a problem. My sense was that Speaker Bedke did, but I sure didn’t hear others join him. When I can get Republicans to talk about this they usually deflect the low wages to a comparably low cost of living in Idaho.

But they are wrong again. Idaho’s cost of living is about 30th nationally, while wages are 50th.

I have heard one lawmaker dismiss low wages as a problem. He also considered the goal of economic growth, especially for rural areas a mistake. “People like things the way they are; otherwise they wouldn’t be livin’ here. Why try to change things?”

As I sit in the distant back seat and watch EORAC hear testimony about Idaho’s economic forecast, I wonder who’s speaking up for the workers in Idaho? Do they have a seat on this bus?

A heartfelt thank-you

carlson

From time to time when out in public I’ll bump into a reader of the column or an old friend who inevitably asks how am I doing in dealing with my major health challenges. As they and a few others know, I have been combating a rare form of Stage IV neuroendocrine cancer which was diagnosed in November of 2005. I was given the proverbial six months left to live.

This, coupled with an earlier (1999) diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, as well as a few other maladies, makes me somewhat of a medical marvel to my team of doctors.

In responding I always thank them for their interest, and also thank them as a taxpayer for their assistance with ensuring my welfare because Medicare has paid a small fortune to my physician team aad to hospitals that have helped me fight so far with success. Costs have far exceeded what I paid in over the years.

This is my way of segueing to the current national political debate over the issue of ObamaCare, its alleged failures and the prospects for reform of our overly costly system of health care. Indeed, most folks who follow this debate will do so from the same place and ask the same question: How does this impact my family and me?

The unvarnished truth is there are features of ObamaCare that have been implemented which enjoy broad support and one can rest assured the Republican Congress will not touch these. The public now sees them as entitlements, and as such, they have become institutionalized.

These features include no denial of coverage for a pre-existing condition and no caps on the cost an individual may incur. I am and continue to be the beneficiary of these features. My critics may find it disconcerting to learn that through their paid taxes, especially Medicare, they are indirectly paying a part of the cost that keeps me on the sunny side of the earth.

Allow me to explain. After the initial diagnosis I sought a second opinion like everyone should The number of tumors on my liver, as well as the deterioration of the tri-cuspid valve, led doctors at M. D. Anderson in Houston to decline to even see me - the CT’s, MRI’s and blood work made it look hopeless. Administrative personnel at M.D. Anderson have since apologized and also have reviewed their entrance criteria.

I ended up at The new Huntsman Cancer Center attached to the University of Utah in Salt Lake. During the course of 2006 and early into 2007 I underwent five chemoembolization procedures where they enter a major artery and with an incredibly small wand are able to place the emolsion directly on the tumors to literally shatter them.

The last procedure at Huntsman involved placing radioactive pellets, Y-90, on the tumor remnants to ensure they are indeed killed. The pellets were flown in from Australia the day of the procedure. All of these procedures were of course expensive.

Mercifully, I stabilized and slowly began to regain weight and recover. There is no cure for this cancer, but we certainly knocked it back and have held it in check ever since.

During all the intervening years I monthly receive the maximum allowable amount of a sandostatin called Octreotide. I call it my “golden rear” shot because I receive half the dose in my left butt cheek and half in my right butt cheek. It is an expensive drug, one which I could not begin to afford did I have to pay the cost myself.

Fortunately for me, I am covered by Medicare and from the beginning I purchased the best supplemental insurance plan one could. Much as an insurance company might have wanted to deny me coverage they could not because ObamaCare prohibits denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions.

If Congress makes the mistake of repealing the act first without having put in place the replacement bill guaranteeing continued access and coverage, I’ll be at Raul Labrador’s door along with a thousand others.

One last note: I polled 12 of the doctors I have utilized over my 11 year battle as to whether they would not have preferred Congress to have expanded Medicare into a single payer system that cut insurance companies out altogether. To my surprise all 12 said yes, that it was the devil they knew and it was working. Like me, all Americans, especially those covered by Medicare should be watching carefully.

Health care now

jorgensen

A few hundred people braved freezing winter weather Friday, January 6 to hear former Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley discuss the future of health care policy under the Trump administration.

The early morning breakfast forum was held at the Multnomah Athletic Club in Portland. It was billed as an overview of how the incoming Republican president-elect’s policies will affect the health care reforms that have been initiated in “blue states” such as Oregon and Maryland.

O’Malley, who served two terms as that state’s 61st governor, ran for president in last year’s Democratic primary election. He was also chairman of the Democratic Governors Association from 2011 to 2013. Under his leadership, Maryland became the first state to adopt an all-payer system that included all of the hospitals within its borders.

Kitzhaber said that in the 30 years since the creation of the Oregon Health Plan (OHP), millions of the state’s residents have benefited from expanded insurance coverage. Access was expanded to 400,000 Oregonians, Kitzhaber said, with subsidies provided to 95,000 of them.

However, he added that the program did not connect with outcomes or address costs within the health care system.

O’Malley said that many states, including Washington and Maryland, had commissions as far back as 1978 that set insurance rates. But many of those states abandoned that approach over time.

Health insurance reforms implemented in Maryland saved the federal Medicare program $116 million in their first year, O’Malley said. Those reforms involved a process that begins with rate setting and utilizes a global budgeting system.

Rates are set for hospitals by the rate commission, O’Malley said. Those entities agree on a budget and prices. Volumes are monitored, prices are adjusted and hospitals get to keep the savings that result from improved patient wellness, he said.

O’Malley said that hospital revenues are estimated in advance and an emphasis is placed on preventing unnecessary patient admissions. Some Maryland hospitals began changing their inpatient centers into wellness centers to achieve those aims.

“I believe we have found a better way to move forward in Maryland,” O’Malley said.

Following his presentation, entitled “Paying for Wellness—Maryland’s Story,” O’Malley took a seat besides Kitzhaber and a few others for a panel discussion.

Kitzhaber said that prior to the passage of the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010, insurance premiums went up 75 percent between the years 2001 and 2008. Out-of-pocket expenses went up over 100 percent, Kitzhaber added, and 44 million Americans lacked coverage.

Like previous efforts, Kitzhaber said the ACA was insurance reform, but did not address the underlying inflation in the system.

O’Malley and Kitzhaber both said they felt that progress on health care reform has been made in their respective states, and it is worth fighting to protect. They agreed that states like Oregon and Maryland can reframe the debate on the issue.

“I think we should step into this thing boldly,” Kitzhaber said.

Kitzhaber did caution, though, that trying to obstruct the incoming Trump administration will not help Oregonians. He concluded that “blue state” leaders like himself and O’Malley need to offer rational solutions as part of the process.