Idaho Examiner -
Idaho Rep. Tom Loertscher

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

House Highlights - Week Eleven 2006

House Highlights

By Tom Loertscher

The “water wars” continued this week and you would think that after having an abundant snow pack this winter there would be very little to fight about. It is probably a dream come true for some because there is opportunity to set water policy while we have some. On the other hand, very strong willed people and companies are dug in this time. Recharging the aquifer is the center of attention and I can’t remember a time when so many lobbyists from both sides have been scattered around the capitol rotunda bending the ears of legislators.

The whole affair reminds me of the first time Linda and I went with friends on a short float trip on the Snake River. While preparing the boats and all for the event, I was minding my own business when I was hit in the back with a full bucket of water. That was the moment I discovered that the day was not about floating down the river, it was about having a big water fight. In this case it doesn’t take long to find out that this water battle is not really about water at all, it’s about money. The real issue has become whether or not money should exchange hands if in non-draught years abundant water could be used for recharging the aquifer. It seems to me that it ought to be a simpler matter than it has turned out to be. All of the rancor that has developed is not solving much. One lawyer I was talking to told me that if the present course is continued, all he wants is to be one of the litigators involved, on either side, because he thinks there is potential for making a lot of money. You might ask, who will pay the bill? I’m sure you can guess the answer to that question.

Budget bills are trickling through the process at long last and some of the larger budgets now have bill numbers. House Bill 849 is the appropriation for the Medicaid for next year and is a whopping $1.3 billion. It was pulled back to JFAC briefly to put intent language on it concerning a brand new expansion that has become a part of this year’s Medicaid overhaul effort. Intent language on a budget, only controls for the fiscal year involved and what really controls the new program long term is in the authorizing legislation. It looks like to me that we are about to open a door into dark room without out knowing either the size of the population to be served or the cost thereof. Though it may not be like the water fights, with each new expansion of Medicaid the taxpayer is going to get soaked. Just how much of this kind of reform can we afford?

The mood at the Statehouse is deteriorating somewhat as we now move into the twelfth week of the session. I caught one of the lobbyists looking at committee agendas the other day and asked him if he had something in particular he was interested in. He told me that he was trying to determine if there was anything out there that would do his clients damage. Strange things can happen in the final days of a session. I had a bill in the Senate last week that they had amended twice and messed up to the point that the bill did not solve the problem it was intended to fix. When I pointed out what had occurred to the Senate Majority Leader, he was so embarrassed that I got the bill redrafted and presented it to Senate State Affairs on Friday. It was a first for me in getting a bill introduced and sent on its way for action on the Senate Floor all without my having to say a single word. I was literally speechless.

I was asked by someone over the weekend when they could relax their grip on their wallet? The answer is, not yet. We have a full week left for sure with some fairly heavy lifting ahead. Budgets, water fights, and property taxes are the big ones yet to be resolved. I rather suspect that the mood will change some more. I’ll do what my mother always used to say, “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and take what comes.”

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