Saturday, February 5, 2011

House Highlights 2/1/2011

House Highlights
By Tom Loertscher

During the Revolutionary war, Thomas Paine wrote a series of articles entitled The Crisis. He wrote, "THESE are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman." While the crisis that we are facing at this present time may not be anything like the Revolutionary war, the times definitely are a challenge.

We keep looking for some good news as it pertains to our budget and revenue and at the close of this last week we just don't seem to be able to find the good news we’re looking for. The revenue numbers for January will soon be in and we will know better how the economy in Idaho is performing. Everyone around here is crossing their fingers for a positive result.

I don't recall a time when we have had more hearings into budget matters then we have had this year. It seems that the various committees of the legislature are more engaged in looking at how the budget might be put together. The House Health and Welfare Committee invited several provider groups to speak to the committee about how to save money in the Medicaid program. Due to a previous commitment, I was unable to attend the meeting but it was recorded and I listened to it while driving home. It was interesting to hear the comments from many providers and how they see Medicaid from their point of view. It ended on the note that they committed to working with us and all concerned to find savings. The most frequent comment in the meeting was to hear each one explain how important their particular program is. That's not new, but what is new is that they have committed to help.

The pace of the session has picked up with several new pieces of legislation being introduced. I don't know how we compare to other sessions at this point, but it seems like the load is quite heavy already. I know what you're thinking, just what we need, more laws. I had one legislator approach me the other day and tell me that he had a good one-liner, "Section such and such is hereby repealed." My reply? "Go for it!" That's a little bit of music for my ears.

With the pressure that has been building around the capital, it was good to get home over the weekend, get a little sunshine, and get a change of pace. I don't know what other legislators do on weekends, but I do know that being home down on the farm is quite therapeutic for me. I got a chance to look through the cattle, check out the snowpack, do a little repair work on the house and sleep in until 6 AM. Then I turned on the news to see all the unrest in the world. That put an abrupt end to a restful weekend.

Whether or not you call what we are experiencing a crisis or not, the matter is serious. The latest projections are that we may be $185 million short to cover 2011 and 2012. We definitely have our work cut out for us. Last summer I attended a meeting where the speaker told us that the most unfortunate thing about these times is that the words million, billion and trillion all sound the same. How on earth did we get here? That’s a subject for another discussion.

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