Idaho’s Republican-led Legislature wants to spend milions of dollars, kicking as many people off Medicaid as possible.

Where will that money come from?

The homeowners of this state.

After Idaho voters last year reversed six years of legislative indifference by passing Proposition 2, extending Medicaid to low-income adults, lawmakers had to come up with a way to pay the state’s 10 percent match — or $42 million.

Rather than work on that, however, they started tinkering — and drove the costs up even more.

For instance, lawmakers required people eligible for those benefits to prove they’re employed or otherwise gainfully occupied.

To keep 16,300 people from getting the health care coverage voters intended, lawmakers are willing to devote more resources on paperwork and administrators.

According to their estimate, it will come to $1.6 million more.

Elsewhere, however, the expense of operating a work requirement has been much higher. For instance, the credit rating agency FitchRatings says Kentucky anticipated allocating $35 million on a Medicaid work requirement affecting 95,000 people. That works out to more than three times Idaho’s per capita estimate — and the Gem State’s proposal is much harsher. Before the courts stopped it, Kentucky gave recipients three months to certify compliance; Idaho’s plan would force people to check in each and every month.

If Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, has his way, homeowners will come to the state’s rescue.

Rice wants to confiscate about $10 million of the sales tax revenues the state now shares with the counties. His Republican colleagues on an interim committee went along with his recommendation last week, sending it to the full Legislature next year.

Rice argues counties will have money to spare because Medicaid expansion will reduce what they spend on bills incurred by people deemed to be medically indigent.

Not necessarily.

Of the $20 million counties spend on the medically indigent, about $9 million is devoted to mental health treatment — much of which goes unreimbursed by Medicaid.

People who won’t or can’t obtain insurance still get hurt or sick. Among them will be those whose failure to satisfy Idaho’s Medicaid work requirement leaves them out in the cold. Every one of them will rely on the county medically indigent program.

How significant will that burden be once Medicaid expansion begins next year? And should the Legislature change the rules about who does and who does not qualify for help from the counties’ medically indigent program?

Rather than waiting to find out, Rice will be squeezing property taxes to pay for a vindictive work requirement — and homeowners will provide the bulk of those.

Not that legislative antipathy toward homeowners is something new.

Property taxpayers are shelling out $202 million a year to shore up local schools because lawmakers would rather cut income taxes for wealthy individuals and corporations than adequately pay for public education.

They got so carried away in 2018 that Idaho’s budget has gone wobbly. The state’s latest economic forecast anticipates individual income tax collections falling about $170 million short of what was initially anticipated.

And the burden on homeowners is now at a 10-year high. For that, you can thank the Legislature’s decision three years ago to cap the full coverage of Idaho’s Homestead Exemption to homes valued at $200,000. With real estate prices inflating, the buying power of that tax break has eroded by about 18 percent.

The way property taxes work in this state, if homeowners pay more, then businesses, industries and landlords pay less.

Homeowners are now shouldering 65.8 percent of the overall property tax burden, the highest rate in 10 years.

So why should anyone be surprised when lawmakers pick homeowners’ pockets to pay for their Medicaid work requirement?

Some would call that robbing Peter to pay Paul — except Paul isn’t getting anywhere, either. — M.T.

Recommended for you