“State spending has been growing at a very slow rate, and now we’re reaping the harvest,” Little said.
BOISE, Idaho- This article originally appeared in the Idaho Press.
On Tuesday, a virtual town hall-style discussion with Gov. Brad Little centered on the governor’s legislative priorities and the concerns of state residents.
“State spending has been growing at a very slow rate, and now we’re reaping the harvest,” Little said during his opening remarks before taking questions from callers. The state’s strong economic recovery puts the state on track to be able to spend on important issues such as education and infrastructure, he said.
Hosted by AARP of Idaho, the call is part of a series where residents can connect with the governor and learn about events in the state. It’s also a chance for the governor and his staff to gather feedback from residents and use it to make policy changes, Little said. Tuesday’s callers asked Little questions on a wide range of topics from Medicaid rates and education to roads and broadband access.
MEDICAID RATES DOWN
Two callers wanted to know what could be done to fix Medicaid reimbursement rates in the state. A caller expressed difficulty in helping a parent obtain a place in a long-term care facility because the parent has dementia. Many facilities have space, but the Medicaid reimbursement rate does not begin to cover the additional resources needed to provide care for patients with memory problems, the caller said.
The other caller expressed a similar concern, saying Medicaid rates should be increased to allow seniors to receive the care they need at home. One caller said he did not want to live in a long-term care “facility”, while another said he would not qualify because he is on Medicaid.
Rates and the number of staff available to work in long-term care roles are two big issues, Little said. Many long-term care facilities struggle to retain staff, especially those with additional skills, he said. Little’s administration is working to strengthen nursing programs statewide to graduate the next wave of certified nursing assistants, or CNAs. They also work through the Idaho Workforce Development Board and high school apprenticeship programs to train people in the skills they would need for a career in nursing, but results will take time, he said.
“We’re doing a lot, but I can’t snap my fingers overnight because of the incredible shortages we have right now,” Little said.
As for rate increases, there are proposed increases in the current state budget that have been pretty well received by lawmakers, said a Little’s staffer who was also on the call.
NEED BROADBAND AND ROAD IMPROVEMENT
Several callers asked the governor about road improvement plans in the state. A caller from Harrison, about an hour’s drive south of Coeur d’Alene, spoke of the need for improved broadband access and the value of having paved dirt roads in his community. He questioned the wisdom of cutting taxes before investing in needed infrastructure.
With $500 million in state and federal funding for roads, Little predicts the state will be able to make significant road improvements as well as lower taxes this year, though it will be up to local jurisdictions to decide. decide which roads should be paved, he mentioned.
“I guarantee your local roads will improve,” Little said.
When it comes to broadband expansion, the Statewide Broadband Committee recommends where to make improvements, Little said. Communities can share a proposal to find an entrepreneur or entity willing to expand into an underserved area, Little said.
PROPERLY FUNDING EDUCATION
A caller asked if, given the budget surplus, more money would be allocated to funding education in the state and reducing the pressure on landlords from the additional levies.
A bill that has just been approved by the Senate Education Committee, HB 433and which is about to be approved by the full Senate, would bring state health spending for teachers on par with that of other state employees.
Little says he plans to raise teacher salaries by 10% and inject more than $1 billion in funding for K-12 education in Idaho over the next five years, helping to reduce the need for additional samples.
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