BOISE — Idaho Gov. Brad Little drew a line in the sand on Medicaid expansion Wednesday, saying he’s unwilling to let lawmakers go home for the year without paying for the voter-approved initiative.

During a meeting Wednesday with the Idaho Press Club, Little was asked if he would allow the Legislature to adjourn without appropriating the necessary funds to pay for expansion.

“No,” was his succinct response.

If push comes to shove, Little could force lawmakers to remain in session by vetoing appropriations bills.

The likelihood of such a showdown appears to be quite small, though, as most Republicans seem resigned to paying for expansion. That assumes, however, that some type of “sideboards” or restrictions, are added to the program to help control costs and encourage personal responsibility.

Without sideboards, several legislative leaders have suggested a straight Medicaid expansion bill won’t get enough votes to pass.

Little said he’s willing to consider certain restrictions on expansion. He noted that Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, is working with a group of House conservatives to determine what type of sideboards they’d like to see.

The options they’re considering range from mandatory work requirements to various co-pays, lifetime limits, possible drug screening and periodic reviews. A final bill hasn’t been introduced yet; if approved, each of the restrictions would require a waiver from the federal government.

A separate waiver bill that was introduced in the Senate on Feb. 11 calls for voluntary work requirements, among other proposals.

“Rep. Vander Woude has about 13 items on his list, but I think the list is getting shorter,” Little said. “There’s a big discrepancy between the House and Senate. They need to get together, and I’m fairly confident they will.”

The governor said there are some sideboards he won’t support, but he declined to be more specific. He also indicated it’s “too soon” to talk about whether he’d veto any proposals.

Little also touched briefly on transportation funding during Wednesday’s meeting.

Three bills have been introduced this session that would grab a share of general fund revenues to pay for more highway maintenance and expansion projects. Collectively, they might raise about $80 million.

Little said he’d like to “tap the brakes” on efforts to steer more general fund dollars to transportation, which historically has been paid for with federal revenues and dedicated fees such as the fuel tax.

“I tell all the transportation advocates, when we have (an economic) slowdown, kids will always trump roads,” he said. “You can’t count on general funds when there’s a slowdown. We need long-term, sustainable funding for roads.”

Nevertheless, given the substantial deficit in highway maintenance funding, “we have to do something,” he said.

“There’s a dialog going on,” Little said. “I was hoping it would be further along than it is. I’m encouraging them, but it’s revenue-raising and that’s the role of the Legislature.”

Overall, the governor said the first two months of his administration have been busy and productive.

“There’s not a lot of daylight in my calendar,” he said. “I’m still doing all the things I used to do before, and more. The biggest difference is, people return my calls better.”

Spence may be contacted at bspence@lmtribune.com or (208) 791-9168.

Recommended for you