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Idaho Democrats: Raise the minimum wage, expand government-run health care

Idaho Democrats: Raise the minimum wage, expand government-run health care

Dustin Hurst
January 12, 2016

Not content with the proposed $116 million in proposed new money for Idaho’s public schools, legislative Democrats suggested Monday they would like to add another $30 million in education spending.

House Minority Assistant Mat Erpelding, a Boise Democrat, told reporters Monday his party thinks the governor should drop his new $30 million healthcare plan and spend that cash on public schools.

“Our belief is that Medicaid redesign is the appropriate method to cover the people in the gap,” Erpelding said, regarding Medicaid expansion, an option under Obamacare.

The governor’s new healthcare plan could cost $30 million a year, and it would cover only basic health needs, like routine doctor visits. The plan wouldn’t cover hospitalization, prescription medications or specialty procedures.

“To add to this, Ottercare comes at triple the price,” Erpelding said. He pointed out Idahoans pay federal taxes for Medicaid expansion, but don’t receive the benefits, while also funding the state’s catastrophic health care program to the tune of more than $40 million annually. The new healthcare program, he said, would complete the trifecta of wasteful spending.

Democrats plan to introduce a Medicaid expansion bill this year, but Erpelding declined to say when his party would bring it to the Capitol.

“I don’t want to get into timelines,” Erpelding said.

Some 33 states have expanded Medicaid, at least four more are discussing the idea.

Democratic leadership also suggested lawmakers raise the minimum wage. Erpelding successfully introduced a bill to do that last year, but it did not receive a full hearing.

“We do have a similar bill to last year,” Erpelding.

The 2015 bill, which Senate State Affairs Chairman Curt McKenzie, R-Nampa, refused to hear, would have raised the state’s minimum wage to $9.25 an hour over a two-year period.

Despite last year’s rejection, minority leader Erpelding pledged to keep the wage increase on the to-do list.

“We have not changed any of our approach in terms of how we’re advancing our idea of the minimum wage,” he said.

Erpelding added, “The idea is to raise the minimum wage to a point where an Idahoan can get off government services.”

Among their other policy ideas, Democrats also want to create an inspector general’s office, to ensure good governance, and sunset tax exemptions, to ensure their effectiveness.

Democrats tried and failed to create the inspector general post last year.

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