Minutes after announcing that more state budget cuts will be coming on Monday, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter said one area that will get more money in 2010 is a special fund that could be used in a lawsuit over the proposed congressional health care reform package.
The fund, called the Constitutional Defense Council Fund, pays for state legal cases against the federal government or agencies threatening Idaho's sovereignty. The Legislature puts money into the fund and spending fund money is decided by a majority vote of the governor, attorney general, speaker of the House, and Senate president pro tem. The Legislature set up the fund in 1995 and in recent years fund money has gone to legal cases involving abortion and political contributions by unions.
Currently, the fund has less than $300,000, but Otter, House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, and Senate President Bob Geddes, R-Soda Springs, agree that it should be restored to $1 million. That would mean drawing more than $700,000 out of the "no growth" budget Gov. Otter will propose Monday.
Geddes said all three leaders agree that the Constitutional Defense Council Fund protects the interests of the state of Idaho. "The last couple of years it’s been difficult to find the money to direct to that fund," Geddes said. "But certainly it’s something that serves everyone’s best interest.”
The most recent Idaho Republican Party platform also recommends bringing the fund back to $1 million. The state Democratic Party platform makes no mention of the fund.
If the fund is boosted back to that level, Otter and Geddes agree that spending some of it to challenge the constitutionality of the congressional health care reform package would be a good idea.
"“ If I had to spend $1 million in order to save $150 or $500 million, that seems to me to be a pretty good bet," Otter said. Those higher dollar figures come from potential increased state payments to Medicaid.
"If we don’t defend ourselves to remain in compliance with the (U.S.) constitution, then we set a precedent that will make it more difficult for us in the future to defend ourselves,” Geddes said.
A spokesman for Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said he hadn't heard of any proposals to use money from the fund for a lawsuit over health reform. Wasden recently sent a letter to congressional leaders questioning the constitutionality of Nebraska's Medicaid exemption in the health care bill. Under the health care plan that passed the Senate, the federal government would pay for all of Nebraska's increased Medicaid costs.