I am honored to serve the residents of Nez Perce and Lewis Counties as their representative in the Idaho House. Since first being elected in 2004, I have tried to bring reason and moderation to the House, and carry information from Boise back home. Please explore the site, send me comments or information, or sign up to volunteer on my campaign.John Rusche
Things have improved in Idaho since the depths of the Great Recession. But in spite of this, many continued to be stressed.
- Idaho average wages are among the worst in the United States.
- More Idaho kids live in poverty than in years past.
- High percentage of minimum wage jobs–Only Tennessee has a higher percentage than Idaho.
Good jobs and business growth depend on a number of factors. While tops in many people’s minds is usually “lower tax rates”, more important is a stable, predictable tax structure so that employers can project with some clarity the future and allow them to build an effective business plan.
Equally important, especially for the 21st century economy, is an educated and skilled workforce. The rest of the world is developing the technology-savvy workers international markets require for successful products. Good public schools, community colleges and universities, affordable and with the capacity to meet workforce development needs, is essential. Better integration of the skill sets our education system produces with the needs of our businesses is important. This need has been emphasized by the Governor, the Director of Commerce and numerous business leaders.
Attractive communities that make it a pleasure to keep your family in Idaho are also important. Often referred to as “quality of life”, this includes recreation opportunities but also vibrant cities and towns. That means re-investing in the municipal infrastructure and services that families and businesses require. The telecommunications infrastructure and the system of roads and rails are other important factors for businesses. Who would want to locate a business (or even expanding an existing business) somewhere without good road or rail access and robust cell and broadband service?
Finally, expanding business and making more jobs requires the availability of credit or equity financing. This is especially difficult for smaller businesses right now. We need support for start-ups and small /medium business financing programs. Economic development often is viewed as attracting a big employer to move in. Those “home runs” are rare.
Most job growth comes from existing companies, and having the telecom and transportation, the workforce and attractive communities, as well as a transparent and stable tax system, will help us grow good jobs.
During my time in the legislature I have voted for reasonable, focused tax reductions, but have, and will continue, pushing for the Legislature to consider “the rest of the story”—the education, infrastructure and livable communities that benefit Idaho families and businesses.
The entire healthcare system is in flux, and changes will continue unabated. With my experience in healthcare delivery as a physician, in financing as a Health Plan executive, and in public health policy, I am uniquely qualified to help Idaho and her citizens weather the storms.
Since arriving in the Legislature, I have been part of several initiatives that help Idaho families and the healthcare providers who serve them. Here are a few of the areas:
- Availabity and Access to Care
Since the Affordable Care Act was enacted, there have been several opportunities to improve the care for Idahoans, particularly those with low incomes or pre-existing conditions. Starting in 2012, I helped the Catastrophic (CAT) program use the ACA for high cost/high risk individuals, saving the State and counties millions. But there still are 78,000 low income working adults who cannot get coverage because the State Legislature refuses to act. It is costing Idaho tens of millions of dollars and an estimated 150 lives each year we fail to accept the Federal Medicaid program for those individuals. Failure to act is unreasonable and cruel. I will continue to push for that coverage.
- Drug abuse prevention and treatment
I sponsored the legislation to limit meth precursors which resulted in a marked reduction of meth labs in the State, and the creation of an electronic prescription drug monitoring program, one of the first in the nation, to track opiate prescriptions. I helped create a prescription drug taskforce, now working in the Governor’s Office of Drug Policy
- Health data management
The transfer of patient records between hospitals, labs and hospitals is facilitated by the Idaho Health Data Exchange which I co-authored. I also authored the telehealth licensing and regulation legislation to improve care to rural Idaho.
- Controlling healthcare costs
I helped design the Idaho Immunization Registry and the Childhood Vaccine Assessment Program which assures families and insurers of Idaho that they get the lowest prices in the nation. We have even had increases in our immunization rates! I helped create the Idaho Health Insurance Exchange and as a Board member, have helped save Idaho individuals more than $10 million in administrative costs while giving them one of the most efficient exchanges in the Country.
- Rural Healthcare
I have consistently pushed for programs that train (and retain) medical and mental health providers in those parts of the State that have difficulty. I also sponsored legislation to improve the EMS first responder and trauma system that should improve Idaho’s high rates of trauma death. I also championed the development of telehealth regulation for hospitals and providers allowing access to specialists where none are physically located.
- Behavioral Health
Prior to the Great Recession, I participated in a Legislative/Executive workgroup to redesign the Idaho Behavioral Health system. Some of those recommendations are being enacted, some are not, but the crisis in mental health and substance use persists. Last session I worked with the Department of Health and Welfare (Medicaid and Behavioral Health bureaus) to develop and publish a state plan for services. It would include a progress report annually to the Legislature to assure that we continue to make progress.
In the future, the Mental Health system of the State, coverage for low income Idahoans, and effective use of technology in healthcare will continue to be one of my legislative focuses. And trying to develop a more cost efficient approach to healthcare here.
There is no more important role for our State than to prepare our citizens for the future. That is why public education is so prominent in our State Constitution and our biggest State expense.
After the tumultuous time of the Great Recession and the “Luna Laws (“Students Come First”), I believe we have made real progress in public schools. But there are still some real holes to fill. And we have a lot to do for post secondary education.
- The “Luna Laws” caused massive uproar, anger, and debate, and a voter repeal of those legislative actions. Fortunately, a more collaborative approach followed, and there is now a shared vision for public schools developed by a broad coalition of parents, teachers, administrators and local school board members. The “20 points” outlined by the workgroup empanelled by the Board of Education had provided an outline to follow.
- Funding has not always followed the vision, however. But I am pleased with the progress made in both the 2015 and 2016 sessions. I feel that until school districts can retain good teachers and go to 4 day school weeks from choice and not financial necessity, we are still short of the mark. Sometimes being lowest in cost in the nation is not a good thing.
- Common core standards were adopted by Idaho educators (and endorsed by the legislature) as a tool to assure that students were learning what they should. I think having standards is important, and am disappointed that the Legislature rejected the science and math standards. Idaho Kids deserve an education that allows them to compete.
- The low rate of Idaho students that “go on” to higher education after high school–both baccalaureate and technical classes–needs improvement. “Baby steps” were made last session, and I think the Governor and Legislature now realize that the future workers and taxpayers of Idaho are being trained now. Tuitions should not rise beyond affordability, but it has become the consistent barrier mentioned for middle class families. Accelerating tuition costs has hurt–families in a low income state cannot afford tuition increases of 6-10% year after year when incomes remain flat. We have too few scholarship dollars for those needing help and that should change if we wish our kids to have the opportunity for a 21st century future.
Here in Idaho, we have been repeatedly hit by irresponsible decisions that waste taxpayers’ money. I think that improving how Idaho contracts, and how we hold out State officials accountable for errors in law and errors in judgement that take away from the needed services of State government, is very important.
It has been a goal of mine since I have been in the Legislature representing the citizens of our area to try to figure out a way to make things work, make things better for our area and for Idahoans. I try to ask people what they want, and figure out a way to get there effectively and efficiently. That means a lot of listening, creative, solution-focused discussion, and flexibility and wisdom to continue making progress. And building relationships in Boise or elsewhere needed to get things done.
One of the recent issues in Boise has been invalid, illegal and unwise actions that end up costing the state and the taxpayers millions. This includes things like the Idaho Education Network ($60 M), the SchoolNet project ($60 M), Corrections Corporation prison contract (unknown millions of fraudulent billings), pursuing known unconstitutional laws (4 million and legal fees and counting), and manipulations of the State Treasury (a loss of $9M and now a whistleblower suit). For three years I have been pushing an Inspector General addition to improve oversight, and even have 9 cosponsors, Republicans and Democrats, representative and senators. I will push again next year.
I also co-chair the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee which has investigated numerous State departments and does audits on executive department finances. I will continue to provide leadership for open, accountable State government.
Many of us are here in Idaho because of the land’s natural beauty and the recreation opportunities available to us. We feel a real responsibility to be stewards of this gift, and recognize that many of our friends depend on these natural resources for their livelihood.
I believe in public ownership of these lands. But I also believe in using them, but not “using them up”. Multiple use, including logging, mining and grazing as well as recreation and even conservation, all have roles in maintaining the public benefit from these lands.
I do not think that Idaho should “take over” federal public land. We do not have the ability to care for it, and would likely be required to sell off property. Once in private hands, access and a focus on the public good is diminished. That is not a future attractive to many Idahoans.