Printed on: September 27, 2013

Cheers & Jeers

Completing a monumental task

CHEERS to the Idaho Health Exchange Board, which had just five months to pull off a monumental task -- creating an online store that will offer an estimated 196,000 uninsured Idahoans 146 health plans to choose from beginning Oct. 1.

"We started with no staff, no office, no funding, a prohibition against using any state money and the challenge of doing something in five months that other states and the federal government had over two years to work on," the board's executive director, Stephen Weeg of Pocatello, told the Idaho Statesman's Dan Popkey. "Other than that, it was a piece of cake."

Set aside the national debate about defunding Obamacare in relation to increasing the debt ceiling. Focus instead on what the exchange, an idea embraced by Idaho Republicans before Barack Obama entered the White House, will mean for your fellow citizens.

Folks who work for a living but don't earn enough to purchase health insurance may finally be able to afford preventive care.

The plans available through the exchange could reduce your property taxes, which help pay the medical bills of Idaho's medically indigent. It's believed a large number of folks who would fall into the Catastrophic Health Care Fund will be eligible for subsidies available through the exchange.

The good work done by the board gives hope to the working poor, provides choices for small businesses and doesn't force anybody to purchase insurance through the exchange.

This is about options and access. The board, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and those legislators who voted to create the exchange will have reason to be proud when begins offering plans Tuesday.

JEERS to Idaho Reps. Mike Simpson and Raul Labrador. Idaho's congressmen voted with the majority last week to cut 18,000 Idahoans off the food stamp rolls.

This is Idaho, so there likely won't be a political price to pay for advocating removal of 3.8 million Americans from the food stamp program. Certainly Simpson and Labrador can titillate the tea party by telling its adherents they voted to save the federal government $39 billion over 10 years.

Idaho, however, is a low-wage state, one whose recent job growth has been of the minimum-wage and part-time variety. The majority of folks here want work, not a handout. They want to put bread on their tables. In this economy, however, that's not easy.

Simpson and Labrador just voted to make the lives of 18,000 constituents a little harder for an amount of money that is but a drop in the deficit bucket. Yes, that's politics. And yes, that's a shame.

CHEERS to everyone involved in Thursday's debate between the four Idaho Falls mayoral candidates at the University Place auditorium: The City Club, its sponsors, moderator David Adler and the candidates -- Rebecca Casper, Sharon Parry, Brian LaPray and Tim Downs. The most enthusiastic thumbs-up, however, goes to those who attended the forum. Residents filled the auditorium top to bottom. Folks were attentive and respectful. Many took notes. The questions provided to Adler were excellent. The entire night spoke well of a community that is obviously engaged in this vital election.

CHEERS to Sugar-Salem High School, one of two in Idaho recognized as a Blue Ribbon School by the federal Department of Education. As reported in Thursday's Post Register by Nate Sunderland, Sugar-Salem was recognized for its consistent academic growth.

Congratulations to Superintendent Alan Dunn and the administrators, teachers, students and parents who made this possible. That's quite an accomplishment.

CHEERS to 16-year-old Jackson Barber, a junior at Idaho Falls High School. As reported Tuesday by Sunderland, Barber scored a perfect 2,400 on his SAT college entrance exam, one of 360 students nationwide to do so.

Barber told Sunderland he credits his teachers, advanced placement classes and mom and dad's diligence with helping him achieve the rare perfect SAT score. Good for him and all those who helped him along the way. Best of all, this bright young man is considering a career in journalism. We'll keep a seat warm for you here at the PR, Jackson.

JEERS to Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter. The governor has proposed restoring the $82.5 million in operational funds cut from Idaho's schools in recent years. But at a re-election announcement for Lt. Gov. Brad Little, Otter appeared to backtrack. Worse, he showed little knowledge about how the funds were lost or what they are used for.

"That $82 million, as far as I'm concerned, is not going back without some expectation," Otter told the Idaho Statesman's Dan Popkey. "If we weren't spending that $82 million correctly in the first place, I don't want it to go right back into the same environment."

This isn't money that funds quixotic programs or training junkets. These are operational funds, money used to keep the lights and heat on.

And this money wasn't cut because of misuse at the district level. The schools lost these funds because of choices made during the recession, such as low-balling revenue estimates, then handing "excess" funds to those who need them least through tax cuts that have "stimulated" Idaho's economy by creating more minimum-wage jobs than any state in the nation.

Otter's task force recommended replacing this money. The governor said he would follow its lead. He ought to do it, with no ideologically driven strings attached.

CHEERS to Idaho Falls Parks and Recreation Director Greg Weitzel. As reported Sept. 20 by Christina Lords, the proposed spray park on Memorial Drive is on hold.

That's the right decision. The public spoke. Weitzel listened.

Let's get through the election, seat the new city government, get all stakeholders to the table and then get serious about the spray park location as we begin work on a master plan for Tautphaus Park. Weitzel is a man full of energy and enthusiasm. Sometimes, however, patience is your ally.

Finally, let us end by sending out best wishes to a longtime friend of this page, Idaho Republican Party National Committeeman and Melaleuca Vice President of Corporate Relations Damond Watkins, who was injured in a plane crash last week.

Get better soon, Damond. This ain't nearly as much fun without you.

Corey Taule