Idaho Lawmakers Hear Higher Education Reform Recommendations

by Kyle Pffanenstiel

Idaho Public Radio State Capitol Bureau

UI McClure Center

 

Co-chairs of Gov. Otter’s higher education task force presented recommendations for reform at the House Education Committee Wednesday.

The 12 recommendations include calls for a centralized digital delivery system of classes, expanding online courses at public colleges and improving degree completion ­­by offering moving towards “work-based learning.”

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(Photo by Kyle Pffanenstiel)

President of the State Board of Education, Linda Clark, said the recommendations are centered around improving access and affordability to education. She said the committee wants to “look at places where we have kinks and bends,” improve inefficiencies and reinvest the savings into academic programs to increase accessibility.

One way a state-wide digital delivery system could be delivered is through using libraries as education portals, with tutors and people to assist students. These portals would allow students to receive help for classes they earn through an online regents university, but Clark said the plans have not been finalized.

“By increasing direct contact and advising, and increasing access for students, students will be on a better path towards completion,” she said.

The taskforce was created to examine how Idaho could better reach its goal of a 60-percent higher education go-on rate for Idahoans after the state struggled to meet the goal for years. The go-on currently sits at 42 percent, which the task force’s co-chairs believe is caused by issues with affordability and delivery systems.

Most of the cost of going to a traditional college goes to living expenses relating to relocating, President of Idaho Business for Education Bob Lokken, who co-chaired the task force, said to the committee.

“That works for 42 percent of our population. It does not work for the rest,” he said.

He said the recommendations are aimed at providing more flexibility and choice to students in how they receive their education.

“To get to 60 percent, we need to add another 46,000 – roughly two more Boise States… If we got everybody to show up, we couldn’t afford it. The taskforce looked into that and said we had an affordability problem,” Lokken said.

Posted January 17, 2018

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Idaho Lawmakers Talk Federal Tax Code

by Kyle Pfannenstiel

Idaho Public Radio State Capitol Bureau

UI McClure Center

 

Idaho lawmakers heard presentations Tuesday from the Idaho Tax Commission on how federal tax code changes might impact businesses and individual taxpayers.

The presentations were made at a joint meeting of the House Revenue & Taxation Committee and the Senate Local Government & Tax Committee.

The hearing came a day after the House committee introduced an “Internal Revenue Code Conformity’ bill.

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(Photo: Tom Shaner, Idaho State Tax Commission, at a joint taxation committee hearing on Jan. 16, 2018, detailing how the federal tax changes would impact Idaho businesses, individuals. Photo by Kyle Pfannenstiel)

Overall, analysts said conforming to the federal tax code will increase revenues by $97.4 million in Idaho over the next two fiscal years.

Rep. Ronald Nate, R-Rexburg said while he respected the commission’s accuracy in its presentation, he felt the analysis was “static” and did not account enough for the economic stimulus effects conformity would have. “We might expect actual revenues to be higher than this number,” he said to the committee.

Tom Shaner of the Idaho Tax Commission said that the analysis did account for stimulus effects, but did not add speculation on those effects.

Conforming to the Internal Revenue Code for individual income taxes is a common practice, as 41 of 50 states – including Idaho – have done so­, tax commission chairman Ken Roberts told the committees.

If the state does not conform to federal definitions of income, Roberts and other analysts warned, taxpayers would likely pay more to accountants and tax specialists for administrative fees.

Roberts said that the federal income tax is separate from state income tax, but said states often use federal definitions of income for simplicity sake.

“We use a lot of the definitions of what income is and those sort of things so we, in Idaho, don’t need to have our own income tax code,” Roberts said. “If we did, we would have to remodel parts of the capitol to make bigger book cases because you’re talking a large volumes of words to define all of those circumstances.”

Conformity in other key areas, such as reducing the threshold for itemizing medical expenses and reducing the standard individual deduction are also expected to be key areas of reform.

With such sweeping changes to individual income, Democratic committee members worried about the impact to families.

“Is there anything that would prevent us from providing some kind of child credit,” Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, asked analysts, who said additional legislation could create such a credit.

House Minority Leader Rep. Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, said in an interview after the hearing that he worries about the impact to Idaho residents with dependents, including families and those who care for their loved ones.

“If you have a dependent, you’re going to end up paying more,” he said. “Particularly if you have 2 or 3 dependents you’re going to end up paying more.”

Erpelding and other Democratic legislators have recently spoken against Gov. Otter’s proposed $85 non-refundable tax credit for children, saying it is not enough to offset other changes to personal income taxes. The Spokesman-Review reported Erpelding said last week a refundable tax credit of $250 would likely benefit families substantially.

Legislators will receive more information from the Division of Financial Management at a Thursday meeting of the Economic Outlook and Revenue Assessment Committee. That analysis is expected to account for more of the simulative effects the proposed tax changes will have.

Posted January 17, 2018

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Idaho Health Care Plan Introduced

by Kyle Pfannenstiel

Idaho Public Radio State Capitol Bureau

UI McClure Center

 

Idaho lawmakers were looking closely at the proposed Idaho Health Care Plan Monday.

Agency heads presented the plan at a special hearing of the Joint Finance- Appropriations Committee, and the Idaho Health & Welfare Committee voted to introduce a bill to allow the state to seek waivers needed under the plan.

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(Kyle Pfannenstiel photos)

 

The health care proposal calls for Idaho to ask the federal government for two waivers.

One, called the state innovation waiver, will waive the tax credit ban on citizens who make less than 100 percent of the federal poverty limit. Officials estimate 36,00 Idahoans will receive coverage as a result.

The second, the Medicaid 1115 Waiver, aims to move those with “medically complex conditions” from the individual insurance market to Medicaid, in hopes of stabilizing the individual insurance market.

Between 2500 and 3500 Idahoans are estimated to be in the insured group with “high cost conditions,” State Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) Deputy Director Lori Wolf said at the JFAC hearing.

“The idea with this waiver is that if we could carve about 200 million dollars off the individual market… and, based on their conditions, we would cover them on Medicaid,” Wolf said.

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Conditions considered “high cost” include Hemophilia, certain severe cancers, blood diseases, some central nervous disorders, among many others. The waiver is subject to approval from the federal government before its estimated implementation date of July 1st.

State Department of Insurance Director Dean Cameron told JFAC the Idaho Health Care Plan is part of the many efforts state agencies are taking to reduce premiums, which he said rose over 20 percent annually in recent years as result of the Affordable Care Act.

He said ACA mandates “discouraged the health” from entering insurance pools and increased the number of policy holders with health conditions.

“As more people left, and rates went up, the cycle repeated itself. The insurance pool became sicker and sicker,” Cameron said.

“Today in our individual market you essentially have two groups of people: those who qualify for a subsidy and those who are unhealthy.”

The savings provided by the waivers is expected to be around 135 to 150 million dollars. Wolf said the dual-waiver proposal will be budget neutral, meaning it requires no additional revenue.

Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, wondered how health insurance could be more carefully tailored to policy holders.

“My wife and I were required to have insurance for pregnancies and, of course, that’s way past our history,” he said.

“It would be nice in Idaho if we had a pick and choose so you could add individual components that were important for a family.”

Cameron clarified that the Idaho Health Care Plan did not allow for more individualized overage, and said Gov. Otter’s recent executive order deals with that issue.

Within the next week Cameron said the Department of Insurance will have a better picture of what plans after the executive order will look like. He said the agency expects reductions of up to 50 percent for policies that include less coverage than mandated by the ACA.

Posted January 15, 2018

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Idaho Lawmakers Look at State Employee Pay, Benefits

by Kyle Pfannenstiel

Idaho Public Radio State Capitol Bureau

UI McClure Center

 

(BOISE)– Idaho Gov. Butch Otter is recommending a three percent merit pay raise for state employees.

The Idaho Legislature’s joint committee looking at state employee compensation has opened hearings on pay and benefits.

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(Kyle Pfannenstiel photo)

Budget analyst Jani Revier, speaking to the joint committee Thursday, said the governor acknowledges that each state agency faces individual problems, and some may need for more focus on information technology staff, for example, while other agencies require more pay for other staff.

“Flexibility will be important for all agencies to meet their needs,” she said.

The Idaho Division of Human Resources (DHR) recommends at least a three percent increase to all state employees in hopes of better aligning Idaho’s public-sector pay structure with national rates.

“This increase should be considered in an appropriate step to keep pace… and motivate employees to maintain high standards of productivity,” DHR Administrator Susan Buxton testified.

The joint committee also heard the results of a study comparing Idaho’s public and private sector.

 

Senior Principal Malinda Riley with Hay Group Korn Ferry, a human resources firm contracted by DHR to assess Idaho’s total compensation competitiveness, said a larger increase is required to match pay and benefits in both public and private markets, but she warned that salary increases also impact employee benefits, like healthcare and retirement.

The committee held the first of three meetings, and it is accepting public testimony in written form.

The committee will also hear from the Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho.

The proposals will be voted on by the committee before being presented to the Joint Finance and Appropriation Committee. JFAC writes the budget, which will then be voted on by the full legislature before being sent to Governor Otter for his deliberation.

Posted January 12, 2018

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Gov. Otter Calls for Higher Education CEO

Idaho Governor Butch Otter is calling for the hiring of an Executive Officer to coordinate the work of all the state’s higher education institutions. Idaho Public Radio’s Glenn Mosley has more. (1:05)

Listen:

For years now, Idaho has pursued a goal of having 60 percent of  its young adults earning either a college degree or a professional-technical credential:

But in his State of the State Address Monday, Idaho Governor Butch Otter told lawmakers that his Task Force on Higher Education concluded last year that the state will never achieve the 60-percent goal the way higher education is now structured.

Otter called for the hiring of a CEO– a Chief Education Officer under the State Board of Education– to coordinate the work of the schools and to manage a consolidation of higher education support systems, like IT and finance.

Otter said the move would help keep Idaho economically competitive:

Butch Otter:  “The Task Force found that state income tax collections in Idaho will increase by $500 million a year – with no change in population – when the state reaches our 60-percent achievement goal, compared with today’s 42 percent.”

Otter said he was not proposing a chancellor system,  with all of the state’s schools becoming campuses of a single university.

I’m Glenn Mosley.

Posted January 9, 2018

(Photo: Screen grab, ‘Idaho in Session,’ January 8, 2018)

(Audio via ‘Idaho in Session’)

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Gov. Otter Delivers Final State of the State Address

by Kyle Pfannenstiel

Idaho Public Radio State Capitol Bureau

UI McClure Center

 

In his final Budget and State of the State address Monday, Idaho Gov. C. L. “Butch” Otter said Idaho was prosperous, positive, and poised for even better times ahead.

Speaking before a joint session of the Idaho House and Senate, Otter highlighted Idaho’s fast growing population, diverse economy, healthcare, education, taxation and security, among other issues.

OtterBedke

(Kyle Pfannenstiel photo)

Otter said his higher education task force found that Idaho will “never achieve” goal of reaching a 60-percent college go-on rate the way higher education is structured in the state today. “Its 12 recommendations focus on dramatically changing the way our system works to make it more integrated, consolidated and student-centric,” Otter said.

His plans for higher education consolidation include allocating funding for the State Board of Education to hire a Chief Education Officer (CEO) in fiscal year 2019 who will consolidate support services at public colleges, as well as an additional $5 million for a scholarship program aimed at addressing higher education access and affordability. He said that investment in ‘K-through-Career education and training’ comes without tax increases for Idahoans.

“We will never mortgage our future by throwing money at business attractions like some other states. But with your support, we now have targeted, performance-based incentives that work,” he said.

Otter also said he will propose $6.5 million to increase literacy rates in Idaho, an additional $10 million for school technology and an additional $5 million for college and career advising. These are among the governor’s plans to prioritize education this legislative session.

He will be asking lawmakers to consider the Idaho Health Care Plan, which he said would “stabilize Idaho’s healthcare insurance market and give more working Idaho families the ability to purchase affordable coverage.

“It will enable those with the mostly costly, medically complex conditions to move their coverage to Medicaid during the course of their illness,” Otter said. “That in turn will enable insurance companies to reduce their premium rates for the majority of people who remain in the individual marketplace,” Otter said.

Responding to sweeping recent federal tax code changes which the Associated Press reported may cost Idaho up to $100 million, Otter said he plans to enable “substantial conformance with the new federal tax code without putting our state revenues or Idaho taxpayers at risk.”

He also discussed improving cybersecurity for state databases, and said the appointment of a former Air Force cybersecurity expert Jeff Weak as the state’s first director of Information Security has led to the adoption of “rigorous national cybersecurity standards,” such as increased training and internet security.

“We have constitutional, legal and social responsibilities to the people of Idaho,” Otter said. “Those include preparing them for productive citizenship with accessible educational opportunities, safe communities and protection of the law.”

Posted January 8, 2018

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Otter Signs Order on Health Insurance Choice

2018 AP Legislative Preview

by Kyle Pfannenstiel

Idaho Public Radio State Capitol Bureau

UI McClure Center

 

Idaho Governor Butch Otter has directed the Idaho Department of Insurance to “to seek creative options that encourage and permit health insurance carriers to offer health plans that expand access for Idahoans by providing benefits and plan designs to meet consumer needs at lower costs than those now available.”

Governor Otter Otter signed an executive order Friday, making the announcement at the annual AP Legislative Preview at the State Capitol.

OtterPreview

“If they weren’t limited by the mandates, limited by the things they have to offer in an insurance company, these companies could drastically – up to 30 percent – reduce the cost of access,” Otter said.

State officials say health insurance costs rose 28 percent last year.

Coverage for contraceptives among other ACA-mandated areas of coverage like maternity, pediatric and dental care are still being finalized, Idaho Dept. of Insurance Director Dean Cameron said.

“In signing this today, we’re going to be moving forward on a couple fronts.”

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Otter said he also plans to tour the state and answer questions from residents about how the policy change has impacted them.

Officials said no individuals can be denied coverage under these plans.

You can see the executive order here:  https://gov.idaho.gov/mediacenter/execorders/eo2018/EO%202018-02.pdf

The 2018 Idaho State Legislature convenes on Monday, January 8. Otter and legislative leaders also previewed other issues they think may be taken up by lawmakers this session.

Otter spoke further about his Thursday announcement that he will file a bill to create a Chief Education Officer (CEO) for the state’s higher education system, to operate under the State Board of Education. The presidents of Idaho’s eight public colleges will report to the CEO.

Otter said the person who assumes the position will consolidate services, like finance or technology, at public colleges to  save money.

“Paul LePage, the governor of Maine, went through this process and it saved them a lot of money,” Otter said.

“We are going to continue to focus on what’s necessary in state government.”

Otter also said education is his top priority, and he said he plans on improving education initiatives to increase employment.

In a legislative leadership panel after the governor’s period of comment, House and Senate leaders talked about tax policy, education, and harassment policy training, among other topics.

House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, said the legislature will work on ensuring all employees at the legislature understand the rules around sexual harassment and provide a “better path” to file ethics complaints.

All members of the legislature will attend a “respectful workplace training” Tuesday, the second day of the session.

Posted January 5, 2018

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