The Idaho Legislature convened at noon last Monday. There are a number of issues affecting Ada County and other Idaho residents that I hope we can get addressed this session. Some of these issues include:
• Urban Renewal Reform. While urban renewal might sound good on the surface, and was surely authorized by the legislature with the best of intention, the use of urban renewal is out of control. Urban renewal and the accompanying tax increment financing costs taxpayers, benefits the few, and has spread way beyond what I believe was its original intention as a tool to assist in the cleanup of urban blight. It’s high time for massive urban renewal law reform.
• Medical Indigency Reform. Buried in his budget proposal for FY 2010, Governor Butch Otter pushed for a $6.2 million property tax increase by proposing to increase the counties’ portion of medical bill payments for people who are indigent. Counties are considered the “payer of last resort” for people who are found to be medically indigent or, in other words, unable to pay off their medical bills over a five-year period of time. Payments are made by the counties to the medical providers at the Medicaid rate. Until last year, counties were responsible for paying up to the first $10,000 for any given patient. Governor Otter pushed for a $5000 increase to a $15,000 maximum payment per patient per year, which would have amounted to a $1.25 million property tax increase for Ada County residents. The legislature compromised, settling on a maximum of $11,000 from the counties per patient per year. In addition, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare is now (theoretically, since nothing is in place yet) responsible for determining Medicaid eligibility and contracting for viewing bills, determining their accuracy, determining the medical necessity of services provided and attempting to determine whether other resources are available to pay the bills. Ada County already has a process and professional staff in place to perform these services, although most other counties do not. Once the state does have this process in place, a fee will be charged back to each of the counties for this new service. Nonetheless, our property taxpayers are now footing the bill for the increased cost to the counties which would have been even higher if Governor Otter had succeeded in his efforts to increase property taxpayers’ share of these payments. I am now working with Idaho State University, the state’s health sciences university, to try to make affordable preventative clinical services available to low income clientele in an effort to get folks to take personal responsibility for their own health maintenance and avoid costly emergency room visits.
• Annexation reform. People should be able to vote before they are annexed. Otherwise, the act of annexation by a City Council and Mayor who were not elected by the affected parties, amounts to taxation without representation.
• Membership of county Planning and Zoning Commissions. While I applaud the intent of Idaho law to ensure representation from different parts of the county – inside city limits, outside city limits but within areas of city impact, and outside of both cities and areas of city impact – it is becoming increasingly difficult in Ada County to find people who live in the latter category. I would like to see the authority for determining the appropriate makeup of the Planning and Zoning Commission granted to the Boards of County Commissioners, who are ultimately responsible for all development decisions within the counties anyway.
• Property Tax Reform. A simple start to addressing this issue would be to allow county assessors to provide a single value – land and improvement value combined – rather than having to provide a breakout of the two values on assessment notices. At Board of Equalization hearings last summer, where we heard from people who felt their property values were set too high or too low, there was a significant amount of anger and confusion caused by having two separate values. It also causes unnecessary work for the appraisers, who struggle to determine fair market values, as required by law.
• Nuisance Weeds. Current Idaho law allows our Weed Department to go out and eradicate noxious weeds and bill the property owner for the service. If the property owner refuses to pay, the county is able to place a lien on the property and eventually collect. We need to have the same type of mechanism in place to address nuisance weeds, which are cropping up all over the county, particularly at abandoned houses that are in foreclosure.
• Horse Racing Regulations. Horse racing has got to be one of the most overregulated industries in the State of Idaho. Current Idaho law requires an agreement between facility operators and the Horsemen’s Benevolent Protective Association – and it can ONLY be with that particular group – before a live racing license will be issued by the Idaho Racing Commission. A live license is required in order to qualify for a simulcast license. Live racing loses money. Simulcast racing makes money. The requirement for a minimum of 46-days of live racing for facilities at which the handle exceeds $5 million affects only Idaho Downs, previously known as Les Bois Park, puts a stranglehold on the ability of business people to make good business decisions with regard to live horse racing in Idaho. There would be horse racing in Ada County today if an agreement with one particular horse racing owners’ group was not required, and if 46 days of live racing were no longer mandated.
These are just a smattering of issues that are in dire need of intervention by the Idaho Legislature, hopefully sooner rather than later. If you are interested in working on any of these issues with me, please contact me at email@example.com or 287-7001. Thank you!