Office space spending far more “absurd” than Medicaid work requirements

Wayne Hoffman Articles

Opponents of work requirements for Medicaid-expansion recipients claim it will cost millions of dollars to implement such a requirement. However, it is unlikely the cost would reach that high. Idaho already requires food stamp recipients to work. Applying the existing food stamp bureaucracy to those on Medicaid shouldn’t cost all that much.

But let us suppose opponents’ upper-end estimates are correct. Perhaps it will cost more than $2 million “for a very small percentage of people” to be subjected to work requirements; that “small percentage” equals more than 10,000 people. One legislative labeled the work requirements proposal “absurd” on that basis.

Allow me to assert something that is truly absurd: Spending significantly more — $10.6  million — on an even smaller number of people. I’m talking about the pending proposal in the Legislature to renovate the Statehouse to make new offices for lawmakers. That proposal calls for kicking the state treasurer out of her historical office on the Capitol first floor to make way for offices for some 40 House members.

The spending plan includes $3.5 million to move the state treasurer out of the Capitol to the new state-owned Chinden campus.

The $10.6 million would also cover the cost to convert garden-level House member cubicles to private offices. The newly constructed legislative offices, both on the first floor and on the garden level, would be used just a few months each year.

Of course, lawmakers may have a different reason to support the expanded office space. Building out permanent, private offices could put Idaho on a glide path toward an eventual full-time Legislature with a professional staff.

There seems to be a narrative developing that indicates this will be so. In her recent newsletter to constituents, Rep. Caroline Troy complained that Idaho’s 35 senators have private offices, while most House members do not.

“With twice the number of legislators, we are jammed into cubicle space with no room for staff or interns. My intern works at my desk or balancing his computer on his lap while I am trying to meet with constituents and stakeholders, return calls, and conduct business. It’s a horrible work environment!” she lamented.

The inclusion of the word “staff” is hardly an accident. Troy hasn’t been around long enough to remember when most legislators didn’t have offices, much less their own aides or interns. It’s no accident that legislators are increasingly rumbling about the “need” for ongoing assistance to respond to constituents and conduct research. Today, lawmakers represent more than 45,000 people each.

Almost 10 years ago, prior to the Statehouse renovation, lawmakers worked from their desks on the House and Senate floors. It was common to pass by either chamber at any hour during the session and find lawmakers busy at work. As I have noted previously, House committee chairs had private offices much smaller and a lot less private than the cubicles Troy believes makes for a “horrible work environment.” Yet the complaints about the lack of space persist, even though lawmakers have more room than they’ve ever had in Idaho history.

One day soon we will get to see what really matters to lawmakers, what their priorities really are. Let’s see if spending roughly $216,000 per legislator — $10.6 million for offices and the treasurer’s moving costs — gathers more or fewer votes than a less expensive proposal that would keep people from abusing a taxpayer-funded entitlement program.

Note: IFF updated this post to reflect the moving costs within the $10.6 million plan.