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Opinion >  Column

Eye on Boise: Deadline’s too tight to get health insurance exchange set up, Otter says

BOISE – Idaho Gov. Butch Otter told the Idaho Press Club last week that he’s all but given up on establishing a state-run health insurance exchange, unless the federal government gives Idaho more time.

“Quite frankly, the clock is running – I don’t know that we’ve got time to put together a state exchange,” Otter said. The state needs “at a minimum a year,” he said, but “January of 2013 is our drop-dead date of getting acceptance of a state-based exchange design.”

Otter said there’s too much uncertainty, with U.S. Supreme Court arguments pending this spring and a decision coming this summer on the constitutionality of the individual mandate and the national health care reform law as a whole. Those decisions will be followed by elections in November that could change things again. “There’s not a lot you can do in that environment without wasting a lot of assets,” he said.

“If it stays in place, if nothing changes in November, we’ll have a federally imposed exchange in the state,” Otter said, though that’s what he’s been warning lawmakers against for months.

For now, he said, “I can hope that my candidate for the president wins, because he’s one of the ones that’s said Obamcare is going right out the window if he’s the president.” Otter has endorsed Mitt Romney for president.

Hart opposes tax bill

Idaho could save $200,000 a year by no longer using certified mail to send two types of deficiency notices to delinquent taxpayers and instead using first-class mail, Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, told the House last week. The reason: Thirty-five percent of certified mail is returned simply because folks don’t bother to pick it up.

Barbieri urged the House to support HB 362, legislation from the state Tax Commission to try first-class mail instead for a year to see how it works. “Changing to first-class mail would result in more taxpayers actually receiving the notices,” Barbieri told the House. “It is much more cost-efficient. It’s good legislation.”

Several lawmakers, including Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, voiced concerns. “I’m concerned about this ability to prove who sent what, when, and who got it,” said Luker.

The bill passed the House on a 60-8 vote; among those voting “no” was Barbieri’s fellow District 3 lawmaker, Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, who currently has an appeal of past-due state income taxes pending before the Idaho Supreme Court. The bill now moves to the Senate.

IPTV funding crunch

Idaho Public Television has had zero funding for big-ticket equipment replacement for the past three years. IPTV requested $1.5 million for that purpose next year, but the governor’s budget recommendation calls for another year of zero funding.

“Our operating model is not sustainable with current capital funding levels,” general manager Peter Morrill told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. “Continued deferral of equipment repairs and maintenance will lead to loss of service.”

The public TV system has about $24 million in state fixed assets, Morrill said. “We will always have an ongoing need for some replacement capital … to keep it up properly.” Among the challenges: Workers must climb a 350-foot tower on an 8,000-foot mountaintop every year to replace a special light bulb; IPTV can’t afford to switch to a fluorescent bulb that would last 10 years because of the replacement cost. One of its vehicles, which has more than 200,000 miles on it, left two IPTV employees stranded in Stanley this year until a tow truck could arrive from Boise; no money is available to replace it.

The governor’s budget recommendation for IPTV next year calls for a 0.5 percent increase in state general funds; the agency laid off two employees last year. Meanwhile, federal grant funds for public TV equipment replacement have fallen precipitously.

Otter opposes medical pot

Speaking to about 70 police chiefs from around the state at the winter meeting of the Idaho Chiefs of Police Association on Friday, Gov. Otter spoke against legalizing medical marijuana. Rep. Tom Trail, R-Moscow, has introduced such legislation both this year and last year. “I told Tom Trail I would not look with favor on that bill,” Otter told the police chiefs.

Said Otter, “I just think it’s dead wrong.”

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