Hoffman on start of Idaho legislative session: 'a very good week'

With talk of tax cuts — and less talk of a state-run health insurance exchange — Wayne Hoffman is liking what he's hearing.

Hoffman, the executive director of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, a limited-government lobbying group, used his weekly column to give high marks to the start of the 2012 legislative session.

And Hoffman didn't gloat about Gov. Butch Otter's $300 million gaffe on the health exchange, as the governor backed away from his claim that the feds would slash Idaho Medicaid payments if the state failed to create an exchange. Said Hoffman, "Otter acknowledged he misspoke."

I think Hoffman makes a good point on another issue: He suggests legislators move back the two-week candidate filing period — the current deadline is March 9 — and the May 15 primary election. He sees it as a transparency issue, since it would allow voters more time to review voting records.

But the longer the courts are dealing with lawsuits over redistricting, the more likely it is that lawmakers simply decide to push back the election calendar, for reasons of logistics.

Below is Hoffman's column, in full:

Here are some positive observations from the first week of the Legislature:

First, Gov. Butch Otter proposed a budget that includes $45 million in tax relief. While the details are up for grabs, this is a good start. Could the Legislature provide even more tax relief than the governor proposed? I think so. I’ve run some numbers, and if the Legislature were to hold the line on Medicaid and cut government agencies by a mere 1 percent from the current year’s budget, the state could still afford raises for government employees and provide as much as $100 million in tax relief – more than double what Otter proposed. (The careful observer will wonder how the state could give raises and cut agencies. The answer: Get rid of those agencies that defy the proper role of government, are unnecessary or are duplicative). I’ve heard that the days of government cuts are behind us. I’m hoping lawmakers didn’t get that memo.

Second, the governor softened his pitch for starting a state health insurance exchange. Having been very vocal about an exchange in the months leading up to the legislative session, many expected Otter to offer a fist-pounding moment where he dug in and promised to cajole lawmakers into implementing Obamacare.

But Otter backed down in his State of the State message, basically saying that while his agencies applied for $20 million to start the exchange, that doesn’t mean he’s all in. “My decision to allow the application to be submitted simply preserved the opportunity for you and all Idahoans to discuss our options and decide what’s best for our citizens,” Otter told lawmakers. No strenuous support for an exchange there. Indeed, even though the federal government approved the grant, Otter didn’t even include the $20 million in his budget.

Other good news: Otter’s contention that the state would lose $300 million in Medicaid funding should we proceed forward sans a health insurance exchange faded. Otter acknowledged he misspoke.

Third, there’s a useful discussion taking place at the Statehouse about ethics in government. The Democrats have a proposal to create a new, independent ethics commission. The draft I saw doesn’t appear to be very independent, however, being ensconced in the attorney general’s office. That’s easy to fix, however. The Democrats appear to have taken a minimalist approach to the concept of an ethics panel. Instead of creating a new government bureaucracy, they’ve created a small citizen panel to review complaints. I’m still a little leery that it will one day grow up to be a big government agency.

But any discussion of ethics leads to an environment that that not only discourages corrupting influences, it leads to other public-confidence-building-reform ideas at the Capitol. For example, perhaps the Legislature should put in place a mechanism to make conflicts of interest easier to spot and address. Perhaps the Legislature should move the filing deadline and primary election dates back. The filing deadline for office is March 9. The Legislature will likely still be session, leaving the Legislature with an opportunity to leave controversial votes until after candidates have locked in their decisions to run. The filing deadline and May primary could easily be moved until later, giving voters a chance to fully analyze incumbent voting records.

These kinds of discussion are taking place at the Legislature — and they have real currency. Less prevalent: the desire to give government new powers over the lives of ordinary citizens. But the day is still young. It was a very good week, but there are many more weeks to go.

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Please be more accurate...

in identifying the Idaho Freedom Foundation. As registered with the Idaho Secretary of State, the correct name is Idaho Freedom Foundation, Inc. I believe adding the "Inc." is important so folks realize it's actually a non-profit corporation. I also believe you should put Hoffman's true title in front of him, i.e., registered lobbyist Wayne Hoffman.

Why do we hear so much about Wayne Hoffman?

There are many lobbying groups who put out weekly bulletins on their view of the legislature. Why does Hoffman get constant coverage?
The Statesman's constant coverage of this man help to give him disporportionate influence relative to his actual impact. Are you willing to print all the other lobbying groups' columns?