Idaho lawmakers: Enroll in Budgeting 101

I’m taking up a collection. We need to send Idaho lawmakers to school. I’m not talking about college, but rather Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, which teaches wise fiscal management.

I suggest this because few in the Capitol understand money management, and their skill deficit harms all of us. If we can send lawmakers through the Ramsey course, maybe we course-correct before a downturn craters the state budget.

This year lawmakers did what they have always done: Spend more of your hard-earned dollars. I won’t get wonky about this, but know that the 2020 state government’s budget will grow by at least eight percent. I have to wonder if your family budget will increase similarly.

Big-spenders will claim growth is driving the spending hikes. That’s partially to blame, but it’s not the full story. In fact, state population growth is just two percent, one of the top rates in the nation, but growth is not the main driver.

A quick look at the state’s 2020 budget reveals Medicaid as the big driver of budget growth. This year, legislators approved a $687 million Medicaid budget, a $101 million increase over last year’s $629 million. That’s over a 17% percent increase. Remember that this budget includes $20 million for Medicaid expansion, which only covers new enrollees for six months.

In 2013, the state appropriated roughly $475 million for Medicaid. Since 2013 state Medicaid expenses have skyrocketed 44 percent.

The situation looks grim. Prior to last year’s Prop 2 vote, we were told that 62,000 able-bodied adults found themselves in the Obamacare-created healthcare gap. According to some lawmakers, that number is no longer realistic. Instead, the true figure sits between 91,000 and 120,000. Though the federal government picks up 90 percent of the costs for these new enrollees, the state will still be on the hook for millions of dollars more than estimated.

What does all of this mean for you and your family? Simple: The more lawmakers spend, the higher your taxes. This means you’ll have less to spend on your own vital expenses, like housing, retirement, or college funds for your kids. Or, lawmakers’ high-spending ways could mean less money for core government functions, like roads and bridge improvements.

Bigger budgets also make sensible tax reform more difficult. For years, conservatives have worked doggedly to repeal the state’s grocery tax. Gov. Brad Little promised to seek repeal — next year. But can he? The big budgets set for 2020 will require maintenance next year, and state agencies will come back with hats in hand, seeking more of your money.

Will the budget have room for a grocery tax repeal? I’m incredibly skeptical. Something has to give, and lawmakers prioritize taxpayers last. Lawmakers need to change their ways. Another recession is inevitable and the state is woefully unprepared. We must get serious about sending lawmakers through Dave Ramsey’s money management course, or elect new public servants who have already graduated.

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