District 5 legislators discussed Idaho salaries, roads and Medicaid expansion Wednesday afternoon in preparation for the approaching legislative session in Boise.
The League of Women Voters hosted the discussion at the 1912 Center in downtown Moscow.
Rep. Paulette Jordan, D-Plummer, voiced her concern for Idaho”s educational system and referenced a petition started by political consultant Bill Moran, which would raise tobacco taxes for the purpose of funding education.
Jordan said legislators should focus on education in general, as young people who are looking to settle down are not looking to Idaho.
“That, to me, is the greatest challenge,” Jordan said.
Jordan also spoke on environmental issues, calling Idaho a “nice, pretty, green state,” that is already doing well in energy but has room to improve.
Jordan said the Legislature will have to come to a decision on a 50-state strategy to help Idaho and the rest of the country develop better energy sources.
Jordan and Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, echoed each others” sentiments throughout the discussion, though Schmidt spoke more to Idaho salaries and said the issue would be his focus this next session.
While the country has recovered from the financial crisis of 2008, Schmidt said Idaho”s salaries have not.
“Everything I”m going to look at will have to answer the question “Is this going to help people in Idaho earn more money?”” Schmidt said.
Rep. Caroline Troy, R-Genesee, said she too would focus on living wages in Idaho, as well as transportation and roads.
Troy said she was shocked to find out there was no plan in place to make Highway 95 a four-lane roadway between Moscow and Worley.
“We can”t grow our economy in this region without a better road system,” Troy said.
Parties clashed when it came to Medicaid, as Schmidt challenged Troy to convince the majority party that there was hope for a Medicaid expansion plan this session.
Troy said Richard Armstrong, director of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, has been doing briefings on a Medicaid expansion plan. She said he and others believe it is a workable plan.
Schmidt said the plan would upgrade Idaho”s Medicaid funding from county and state funding to a federal level. But Schmidt said the current system does not always serve its purpose.
“People don”t get care,” Schmidt said. “They get their catastrophe paid for.”
Troy also pointed to a debate from last year”s session, stating it was a good sign Schmidt was not hopeful of Medicaid since he made a similar prediction about transportation funding at last year”s session that did not come true.
“Yeah, I made that prediction with transportation tax last year,” Schmidt said. “I was wrong. Maybe I”ll be wrong this year. That”d be wonderful.”
In reference to the Medicaid expansion plan, Jordan said she sees the state saving at least $100 million in the next seven years. Either way, Jordan said voter participation is important for future elections and petitions on the matter.
“You”ve got to look at whether we”re voting party line or voting for our people and our constituents,” Jordan said.
Taylor Nadauld can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @tnadauldarg