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Opinion >  Column

Eye on Boise: Lawmakers bill state for conference costs

BOISE – Five Idaho lawmakers attended the American Legislative Exchange Council’s annual conference in Salt Lake City last week, but only two – Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, and outgoing Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol – went at state expense.

The others either traveled at their own expense or got scholarships from ALEC, a group that brings together business interests and state lawmakers to work on policy issues.

“This was the only way that I could attend,” Barbieri said, “so I asked the speaker and he approved it.” House Speaker Lawerence Denney also approved state payment for Hart’s trip to the conference.

House chief fiscal officer Terri Franks-Smith said several House members typically attend the ALEC conference each year, some at state expense. “I’ve known over the years it to happen both ways,” she said.

Barbieri said the conference was “a learning experience all the way” for him, including presentations on how other states have dealt with issues including Medicaid and extending broadband service into rural areas. The first-term lawmaker, who’s seeking re-election, said he’s gaining insights he hopes to draw on in next year’s legislative session. “It gives me great perspective, what some of the other states are considering and some of the issues they’re confronting trying to resolve issues for their constituents.”

Hart was defeated in the GOP primary and won’t be serving in next year’s legislative session.

Barbieri said he didn’t realize Hart would be attending, too, but “He’s still a representative and will be until the end of the year. … He’s still working on behalf of his constituents, so I wasn’t surprised to see him here.”

Campaign heads to Idaho

The presidential campaign is on its way to Idaho, with both the Republican and Democratic candidates planning major fundraisers in Sun Valley – within a two-day span. Mitt Romney has a $1,000-a-head reception scheduled for the Sun Valley area on Friday, possibly followed by a high-dollar dinner. And now it turns out that the Obama campaign will hold a high-dollar reception and dinner in Ketchum on Thursday, featuring Vice President Joe Biden.

The Sun Valley area is a target for national campaign fundraisers because of its high-dollar givers to both parties. Republicans have captured the lion’s share of Idaho donations so far in the 2012 presidential campaign, with Idahoans donating $1.3 million so far to Republican candidates and $287,229 to Democrats, according to the Federal Election Commission. Donations to Romney accounted for $970,147 of the GOP giving; 100 percent of the Democratic giving went to Obama.

For the Idaho fundraiser with Biden, attendees can pay $250 just to attend the reception, $1,000 for preferred seating there, or $2,500 for a photo reception; supporters can become dinner co-hosts for $10,000 to $50,000. Romney’s event will be his fifth Idaho fundraiser. Neither campaign has announced public events along with the fundraisers.

Idaho’s health reform path

Gov. Butch Otter’s health insurance exchange working group, chaired by Idaho Insurance Director Bill Deal, has announced it’ll hold its first meeting Thursday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the west conference room of the J.R. Williams Building, 700 W. State St. in Boise. The meeting is open to the public.

Meanwhile, the Medicaid expansion working group, chaired by Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dick Armstrong, will hold its first meeting Aug. 6, also from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; it’ll be at Health and Welfare headquarters, 450 W. State St., in the seventh-floor conference room.

Otter appointed the two groups to look into both issues and advise him how the state should proceed after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the national health care reform law. A joint legislative panel, the Health Care Task Force, will discuss some of the same issues during an all-day meeting on Monday, starting at 9 a.m. in room EW 42 of the state Capitol; that meeting’s agenda includes presentations from Deal and Armstrong.

Lottery boosts state buildings, schools

The Idaho Lottery has turned over a record dividend of $41.5 million to the state, based on increased sales, successful new games and a world-record jackpot run. Sales were up 19.5 percent over the previous year.

The money will be divided between public schools and the state’s permanent building fund, which builds and maintains state buildings. The breakdown: The building fund will get $17 million; the Department of Education School Building Fund, $17 million; and the Department of Education bond levy equalization fund, $7.5 million.

This is the ninth straight year that the lottery has handed over a record dividend to the state. In fiscal year 2012, the lottery’s sales were $175.8 million, up $28 million from the previous year and the single-largest increase in the Idaho Lottery’s history. In the past 10 years, the annual dividend handed back to the state has more than doubled; it was $20.1 million in 2003.

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