Native Idahoan Ron Crane has been the Idaho state treasurer since 1999. Prior to being elected to that office, he served for 16 years in the Idaho House of Representatives. He is also the founder of Crane Alarm Service, one of the state’s oldest and largest alarm service companies.
In an exclusive interview with IdahoReporter.com, Crane cautioned legislators to be cautious about Medicaid expansion, calling it a “big, black hole,” but also praised the state’s lawmakers for balancing the budget each year, something many other states do not accomplish despite their constitutions requiring it.
IR: One of the debates in the recently completed legislative session was over whether or not to expand Medicaid coverage in the state. What is being proposed to Idaho by Washington, D.C., is to increase the number of people consuming Medicaid benefits in the state, and the federal government will pay for the expansion for the first three years. The argument in favor of the idea is as if federal money is “free money,” and suggests that Idaho will save money by expanding the Medicaid program. From your vantage point, what does this prospect of free money from Washington mean for Idaho?
Crane: From my vantage point, my knowledge of the proposed Medicaid expansion is not that great. But I would say that from a philosophical standpoint, Washington doesn’t have any money to give, except what they extract from us and from other states. And every time you accept a dollar from Washington, there’s a little interesting string attached to it that will turn around and bite you later. If we expand Medicaid eligibility, we better be prepared to get ourselves out of a big black hole that we’ll be left in. I would urge the legislators to look at that very cautiously before they accept, as you call it, the “free money” from Washington. I’m very skeptical of that.
IR: You’ve recently undertaken an effort to provide fiscal and economic education to Idaho high school students.
Crane: Since I’ve been treasurer for the past 15 years, I’ve made a conscious effort to use the office as a bully pulpit to talk about good fiscal management by the citizens of Idaho because I think it’s important that we manage out financial affairs correctly. Visa (the credit card company) approached me, as they have done in 36 states now, with the idea of what they call “Financial Football” in the high schools. They asked me to pick a school, and an NFL player, and I picked Kellen Moore (former Boise State quarterback, now with the Detroit Lions). Then we went out to Vallivue High School and played Financial Football. It’s a video game where you are asked financial questions, and you move the ball up or down the field according to how you answer. Visa produced the video project, and my office will distribute it to all the high schools in Idaho.
IR: What does the current fiscal state of Washington tell you about the current level of understanding among adults about fiscal and economic policy? What does it say about the electorate?
Crane: We are the “now” generation, the “me, my, now” microwave generation, I suppose. We want it now, and we don’t want to wait for it. Buying a home, for example. It took my wife and I many years to save for a down payment. That’s the way we did it. Now we have this concept that everybody deserves a home, and the same goes for a car, or an extreme TV or whatever. We buy on time. We use credit. And look at the result. The average family in America owes something like $10,000 in credit card debt. That is a staggering amount of money because most people never get it paid off.
IR: Are you hopeful for our country’s future, and that we can get out from underneath the debt?
Crane: Absolutely. When you look at Idaho and what we do with our state’s finances, we balance our budgets. In the good times, we set money aside in rainy day funds, and in the bad times we cut our budgets to match our revenues. As a result we have the top ratings from the credit ratings agencies. We know how to manage our finances, and it’s the concept that needs to be taking place in Washington, D.C.
IR: Do state treasurers of other states contact you and tell you that they wish their state was managed like Idaho?
Crane: Yes. But the fact is that 45 states have constitutional requirements for balanced budgets, but they don’t all adhere to that, they choose instead to live with deficits. California is a prime example, Illinois is too.