For tens of thousands of Idahoans looking to get ahead, the 2020 legislative session may come down to two issues: the future of Medicaid expansion and education investments in our state.

    On the Medicaid expansion front, Gov. Brad Little has pointed to a sound path forward: Tap savings in state agencies (Department of Health and Welfare and the Department of Correction) and various offsets that come with Idaho’s Medicaid expansion program, and tap the Millennium Fund, which houses the millions of dollars that Idaho receives every year from the nationwide tobacco settlement.

    These are sound, common-sense funding sources that would place Medicaid expansion on a solid foundation. Unfortunately, Gov. Little’s current plan to fund Medicaid expansion also includes a version of a punitive tax hike originally proposed last summer by Rep. Megan Blanksma. Call it the Blanskma tax. The plan is to push millions in Medicaid expansion costs onto Idaho counties, which will in turn be pushed onto Idaho property-tax payers.

    Just three months ago at the annual conference for the Idaho Association of Counties, Gov. Little said he was “dubious” about Blanksma’s proposal. Regretfully, his State of the State address includes a version of that very same proposal.

    Turning to the K-12 education front, the governor’s plan to pay Idaho teachers competitive wages could be a boon to our state. Idahoans are losing out on too many jobs and too much money to sit idle while our best teachers seek employment in border states. The link between education and prosperity is clear. Without a trained workforce, Idaho’s jobs crisis will only get worse. As a result, more and more teachers, families and employers will move out of our great state for better opportunities and prosperity elsewhere. This is not a future we can afford to choose.

    Our endorsement of the governor’s pay raise for teachers comes with two important qualifications. First, it is important to recognize that the governor will be up against legislators who do not believe in Idaho schools, Idaho jobs or Idaho’s future. These lawmakers are among those on the K-12 Task Force who failed to cast votes in favor of competitive teacher salaries, more local control or full-day kindergarten options. We are already seeing members of that Task Force fall under the influence of dark money interests working to shut down Idaho schools, not invest in them. It will be a hard fight to move Idaho forward when it comes to schools and opportunity, but it’s a fight worth waging. Reclaim Idaho believes Gov. Little’s plan is a positive step in the right direction.

    Second, it must be understood that the $30 million he’s recommending for veteran teacher raises is a good start but is not nearly enough. As the governor admitted in his speech, this investment is merely a “down payment”—not yet the kind of bold investment that will make Idaho salaries competitive with neighboring states.

    That, among other reasons, is why we at Reclaim Idaho are challenging the people of Idaho to step up and do their part by enacting bold new K-12 investments through the ballot-initiative process. We’ve proposed an initiative—called Invest in Idaho—that would invest at least $170 million annually in K-12 education. Enacted alongside the governor’s recommended investments, our proposal would ensure that thousands of kids have access to qualified, talented teachers and strong programs in career-technical training and other fields.

    The 2020 legislative session could be a turning point for Idaho’s future. Between protecting Medicaid expansion, fighting back the Blanksma tax plan and securing investments in Idaho schools, there are plenty of issues that will affect everyday Idahoans who sit down at the table every night with their families. Reclaim Idaho continues to fight for those people every day. While we believe the governor has their best interests in mind, it will take a concerted effort from Idahoans all over the state to ensure that 2020 is a year to remember, and not one we would rather forget.


    Luke Mayville is co-founder and Rebecca Schroeder is executive director of the organization Reclaim Idaho.

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