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Healthcare, taxes and workforce development are legislative priorities

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The Idaho Statehouse. Taxes, wages, education and healthcare are expected to be big priorities in the 2017 session of the Idaho Legislature. Photo by Erika Sather-Smith.

Taxes, wages, education and healthcare all promise to be big areas of focus in the 2017 session of the Idaho Legislature.

Taxes

  • Several trade associations support a bill that would create a process for collecting sales tax from online merchants. The Idaho Retailers Association has made this its No. 1 priority and The Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, or IACI, Idaho Realtors Association, and the Idaho Chamber Alliance will push for its approval as well.
  • Idaho Associated General Contractors will ask the Legislature to increase the state’s fuel tax again this year to pay for public infrastructure improvements. The Legislature increased Idaho’s gas tax by 7 cents in 2015, but Idaho Associated General Contractor CEO Wayne Hammon said that only raised enough money to repair and maintain half of the state’s roads and bridges. He plans to ask the Legislature to approve a temporary 10 cent gas tax increase that would be eliminated if gas rises above $3 per gallon.

“The price of gas is ridiculously low right now  so let’s take advantage of it,” Hammon said in September. “But let’s not make it permanent so that when gas rises we will drop this tax effortlessly, without even requiring a vote.”

  • Income and corporate income tax reductions have been passed by the Idaho House of Representatives each of the last two years, but have failed in the Senate. Traditional proponents of these tax cuts, such as IACI, believe the issue will not be taken up again this year because of talk surrounding federal tax cuts.
Alex LaBeau

Alex LaBeau

“You might see some expansion of an exemption, but I think the Legislature will take more of a wait and see approach before cutting a tax rate,” said Alex LaBeau, president of IACI.

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter said at the Associated Taxpayers Conference of Idaho Nov. 30 that he would not pursue any tax cut this year either, and Lt. Gov. Brad Little told the Idaho Business Review that he does not expect the Legislature to take the matter up this year.

“There has been a lot of discussion about personal and corporate tax rates, but what I told legislators is we need to be cognizant of what Congress does because we don’t know how their tax cuts will affect our revenue in Idaho,” Little said.

But Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa and assistant majority leader of the Idaho House of Representatives, said he still expects the House to push for a tenth of a percent reduction on personal and corporate income taxes based on conversations he has had with Speaker of the House Scott Bedke, R-Oakley.

The Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce said it will also advocate for a reduction of the corporate tax rate.

Healthcare

  • Expanding Medicaid to address the needs of 78,000 uninsured Idahoans has been debated for the past few years. A bipartisan interim committee that looked into the issue over the summer said that legislators should expand health care to the uninsured population in 2017. The committee did not back a specific plan, however. Several organizations have lobbied in favor of Medicaid expansion, including the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce and IACI. But Congress has threatened to significantly alter the Affordable Care Act and to reduce Medicaid funding, so some proponents of expansion say that it is unlikely to occur this year.

“I think you will see the Legislature take up healthcare matters such as behavioral health, but as far as the bigger issue, I think you will see a wait-and-see approach,” LaBeau said. Like most policymakers, LaBeau is waiting to see what happens when President-elect Donald Trump takes office in January.

“Obviously everything changed on Nov. 9,” said Zach Hauge, vice president at IACI, of the day after Election Day this year. “I think you will see a punt on a lot of this stuff.”

Economic Development

  • Idaho 2020, a nonpartisan think tank, said it will not directly lobby the Legislature to change laws governing the state’s economic development tools, but Ball Ventures CEO Cortney Liddiard used the organization’s research to ask legislators during the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho conference in November to grant cities more freedom in approving revenue bonds and local improvement district bonds. Liddiard suggested that lawmakers consider lowering the citizen approval requirement for the passing of bonds, and broadening the type of projects bonds can be used for.

Wages

  • The Idaho Division of Human Resources is recommending that the Legislature approve a 3 percent increase for state employee salaries. In a report the division estimates that state employee compensation will be about 20 percent lower by 2018 than comparable compensation in the private market.
  • Lift Up Idaho will propose a bill that would raise Idaho’s minimum wage of $7.25 an hour to $12 an hour. The group has brought a similar proposal forward each of the last three years. Last year’s proposal to raise Idaho’s minimum wage to $9.75 was the first year any of Life Up Idaho’s proposals received a reading in front of a committee, but the committee never acted on the bill after it was read.

Education

Education might be the biggest focus for the 2017 Legislature. Idaho is entering the third and most expensive year of a five-year education reform plan that will cost the state $58 million. Even with increases to education budgets over the last few years, the state has a growing workforce shortage.

Otter said there are 22,000 positions in Idaho that can’t be filled because Idahoans lack the proper training. The Department of Labor estimates that the number of Idaho’s unfilled positions will grow to 95,000 by 2025.

The growing workforce shortage has led to discussion about several different bill proposals that are supported by various advocacy organizations. Some of the proposals would focus on trying to slow the growth of college tuition rates. Others aim to expand programs with long waiting lists and high placement rates, such as the certification programs overseen by the Idaho Division of Career Technical Education.

IACI plans to ask legislators to form a task force that can consider all the different education proposals and weigh them against Idaho’s needs and goals for the next 10 years. Then, legislators could take action on those proposals in 2018.

“I don’t think it would take long to do because there is so much great work that has already gone into this, but we need to get everyone to the same table so we can decide on one, comprehensive direction,” LaBeau said.  “We want them to do something for workforce development similar to what they did with K-12 education when they created their five-year plan because right now the approach is disjointed.”

Financial Institutions

The Idaho Credit Union League said it does not plan to bring any bill proposals forward this year, but the organization is partnering with the Northwest Credit Union Alliance to better monitor bills and to lobby against any that adversely affect the League’s members.

The Idaho Bankers Association did not respond to IBR inquiries about its priorities for the upcoming session.

 

About Benton Alexander Smith

Benton Alexander Smith is a reporter for the Idaho Business Review, covering the Idaho Legislature, new business, technology and financial services.

One comment

  1. Hello from Silicon valley, Now retired we were in defense contracting, and military projects. Also grew up in the payday of silicon valley selling thin film equipment. Could Boise gather enough disgruntled Googlers and Facers to start a central US social media site where thoughts and ideas may be freely discussed without censorship. There are quite a few unhappy employees who cannot advance, are working below their capability, still cannot afford a house, who could be very happy in Idaho. Washington state and University of California extension center could provide additional infrastructure, add the SBA a few friendly retired tech angels and here could be a voice for the fly over states.