Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Unda' the Rotunda is baaaacck

Posted By on Wed, Jan 14, 2009 at 9:44 AM

Today's Boise Weekly features the return of Unda' the Rotunda, our weekly review of Legislative meanderings.

It you are new to Unda', you can read all of last years, and the year before's and... here. Think of it as a crash course in legislative politics.

This week we hang the entire column on this chart (click for .pdf):


The chart shows, in perfect pastels, the percent of base reduction--which is funding that comes out of the state's tax payer funded general fund--that Otter identified for many state agencies. The total budget cuts will vary, depending on other types of funding, but this chart shows Otter's priorities for what tax revenue ought to pay for. 

The governor's budget details are online for your viewing pleasure.

Otter plans to donate part of his constitutionally mandated raise to a state scholarship fund, as we point out in Unda' the Rotunda... anyone want to donate to the general fund? Pledge below...


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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Democrats respond to State of the State

Posted By on Tue, Jan 13, 2009 at 11:27 AM

Democrats in the Legislature responded to the governor's budget priorities this morning with a formal message that raising taxes for road building while cutting public schools is not acceptable.


But the real response began yesterday, in the lobby of the Boise 
State University Special Events Center where one of the best displays of political theater since, well, Larry Craig, played itself out.

A television reporter asked Otter if he was choosing "potholes over people," to which he responded: "Are you suggesting that we take money out of transportation and put it into social services?" Otter first directed the question back at the reporter and then at Democrats.

Assistant House Minority Leader James Ruchti walked to the podium and delivered a short speech ending with the reminder that Otter is proposing a tax hike.

Otter quickly wrapped up the presser and bee-lined it over to Ruchti and Minority Leader John Rusche, cameras and reporters honing in on the impromptu repartee. Capital Confidential caught the whole thing on a shaky video device. The chat ended with some kind of invitation to breakfast.

Caldwell Republican John McGee, who moments before had taken Otter's spotlight as well to point out that road building creates jobs for Idahoans, looked on aghast, shaking his head as reporters relished this actual public airing of disagreement, a rare occurrence in a body often too polite to govern.

Alas, when Democrats regrouped this morning at the Annex, they had no specific rebuttal to Otter's budget, only stating that they had different priorities and reiterating that a bit more of the reserves ought to be tapped.

After two years of "do nothing" legislatures, the state now must play catch up, Rusche said: "Last fall, however, our chronically unfinished business collided with the worst economic downturn in decades and now the crisis we face is even worse."

Sen. Kate Kelly, acting minority leader, questioned layoffs at the tax commission, budget cuts in economic development and raising gas taxes while cutting schools. And she called anew for local option taxing and green jobs.

But neither offered a solution to the declines in revenue to the state aside from dipping further into reserves.

"We need to use a portion of these funds and we must use them appropriately," Rusche said.

The state's four reserve funds now hold $389.8 million. Otter is proposing that $60.7 million be used this year to keep public schools whole and that $75.7 million be used next year, none of which would go to public schools. That taps the state's savings by almost 35 percent.

If half of the savings are used, it would amount to $194.9 million, $134.2 million of which could be used to shore up the 2010 budget. Based on the governor's forecast of less than one percent growth in general fund revenue in 2010, Otter is cutting $216.9 million from his 2010 budget.

Sorry, that's a lot of numbers.  Point is, there is enough in reserves to make the budget whole, but it's nearly all of the savings. So what's going to get cut? Or, as we ask in tomorrow's Unda' the Rotunda column, does she really need cutting?


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Monday, January 12, 2009

Otter scrimps on fuel tax after speech

Posted By on Mon, Jan 12, 2009 at 4:50 PM

Following his State of the State speech--in which Gov. C. L. "Butch" Otter called for an increase in gas taxes, and a host of other new fees and proposals to fill potholes and fix roads--citydesk caught the Guv and First Lady Lori Otter strolling by the Boise River. On the Greenbelt.


Chief of Staff Jason Kreizenbeck and Sgt. Ross Kirtley, Otter's trusty security man, accompanied the First Couple on their walk back to thier black SUV.

citydesk commented to the Guv that the Greenbelt could use some pothole patching of its own, to which the governor replied: "That's because the people that use this greenbelt don't pay their fuel taxes."

He was joshing, of course. And the Greenbelt is maintained by the City of Boise and Ada County, though it does receive some state and federal grants.

At the state's request, we make no comment on the First Lady's footwear (though good on her for keeping it sensible). We only offer this warning: The geese rule the Greenbelt this time of year.


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State of the State liveblog

Posted By on Mon, Jan 12, 2009 at 3:03 PM

citydesk is sitting next to the Times-News's Jared Hopkins, Mr. Capitol Correspondent, who is also blogging and trying to upload his first picture. Awww.
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Otter: Thank you for being here today, for the second and probably the last time that this State of the State address will be delivered at Boise State University’s Special Events Center.

Translation: Next year we’ll be back in the House chambers of the new and improved Idaho Statehouse for this shindig.

Otter just wished former U.S. Senator, Jim McClure, a speedy recovery. McClure is at St. Al’s after suffering a stroke on Friday. Thanks to Wikipedia, Google and the fact that citydesk just saw the film Who Killed the Electric Car, we just learned that McClure, who was replaced by Larry Craig in the U.S. Senate in 1980, was a huge proponent of the battery cars. According to this 1980 Time article, the auto industry bailout bill of the time included incentives for developing electrics… hmmmm..
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Otter: Ladies and gentlemen, as a member of the Idaho House of Representatives 32 years ago, I ran for Governor on the principle that “Idaho can become what America was meant to be. I believe now as I did then that Idaho has a better chance than anywhere else of becoming what the forefathers envisioned in Philadelphia.
Translation: I can’t do this forever people. We are heretofore funding a sculpture contest for a cracked bell. But not through the Arts Commission, for which I am recommending a 15 percent budget cut.

Otter refers to Ben Franklin’s “laboratory of the republic.” We can’t find the reference… anyone? It probably refers to the states as the labs, which makes us … uh …. Lab rats? Must have something to do with Otter’s, “keeping the ideals of freedom, personal responsibility, and empowerment of the people at the forefront of any government agenda.”
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Otter is setting up his argument for slash and burn rather than raising taxes to fund government programs. “Dreams of a state government that understands its intended role in people’s lives and–first and foremost–a government that understands how to live within the people’s means.” And then the old, “Too many Idahoans are struggling to make ends meet, and having to make tough choices in their personal and household budgets.”

Otter’s penny pinching role models who died in 2008: Warren McCain, Albertsons CEO who succeeded Joe Albertson; Loiuse Shadduck, a former Coeur d’Alene Press columnist turned political operative ; J.R. Simplot, his ex-father-in-law/boss; and Vietnam chopper pilot Ed Freeman.

Otter just went off script and gave props to Ben Otter. Can someone tell me the relation?

Otter is bragging on zero-based budgeting, but offers no dollar figure on savings. Well, he's about to... if you can't tell, this is actually not live, it's pre-blogged with some live componentry. It's totally innovative.
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And the numbers: Otter wants a 7.33 percent cut to next years budget, based on what the Legislature approved for the current year’s budget. That amounts to almost $217 million (okay $216,939,200). It’s a $75.8 million cut to public schools (5.34 percent cuts), $44 million to Health and Welfare (7.5 percent cut) … well, that’s enough for now.

Oh, Otter wants to talk about more cuts: 10 percent for higher ed, corrections and water resources down 12, ag is cut 31 percent? We’ll have to check that one out… He does not mention the 51.4 percent cuts to public television, maybe because you might be watching him on… public television (the cuts are for infrastructure and technology improvements that Idaho PTV still needs in the face of the digital television transition. This may be the last State of the State you watch on Idaho PTV, depending on where you live… KTVB, you guys gonna bid on the coverage next year?)

Otter is dipping into some of the state’s savings, but not all of it. He’ll use 35 percent of rainy day funds by the end of fiscal year 2010.

Hat tip (wink, wink, nod, nod) to JFAC and tax committee chairmen.
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Project 60? First we’ve heard of that… Idaho Falls knows about it though-Otter’s dream of $60 billion in gross domestic product in six years (2014?).
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And now, on transportation. Gov is called his road funding plan the Transportation Initiative: cut 10 percent of Idaho Transportation Department administrative costs, prepare annual accountability report showing how money is spent, 2 cents per gallon increase in gas taxes each year for five years taking Idaho’s gas tax to 35 cents a gallon in 2015.

Otter will also jack vehicle registration fees, slap a 6 percent excise tax on rental cars and, interestingly, eliminate the ethanol exemption on the fuels tax. And he wants to examine truckers (there is a giant picture of Otter with House Transportation Committee/trucker JoAn Wood up on the dual screens behind Guv). And he wants to know how much sales tax revenue comes from auto related sales for possible general fund contribution to roads (as Wood has suggested).

And, no, that is not a halo on the cell phone picture I took. I have Leila's special camera on hand for the press conference after the speech. And another thing, this is pretty much as far as I got before the speech started... so for the remainder of the speech, I'm winging it.
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Otter on his education reorganization plan: The State Board of Education is too involved in library commission, Historical Society, Vocational Rehabilitiation, and the Archeological Survey. So Luna and the Department of Ed will get more of its responsibilities back. Board of Ed will go back to it’s policy setting mission.

Otter on health care: Aug. 2007 panel gave him recommendations on making health care more affordable. On Jan. 17 he is reconvening the panel, which apparently includes all of the state’s big health insurance companies, whose logos are displayed on the big screens behind Otter.
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Otter wants us on our best behavior for the 2009 Special Olympics coming to Idaho next month, which he says will include more athletes and participating nations than the SLC winter games plus all their families and fans. Feb 7-13 “will be an opportunity for all of Idaho to shine in the International spotlight. “

Otter has had hip surgery, gone all over the world and traveled all over the state listening to us since the last State of the State.

Favorite budget cut anecdote: Capital for a Day in Rathdrum: lady stepped up to the mike to put a face on Otter’s holdbacks. “Her son was born with autism and the prescription through the analysis said that he would require 30 hours a week,” Otter is saying.

"She did put a face on that," Otter says. "As I look at every cut, as I look at every reversal of a program I look at this young child that deserves more."

But then she said something else: "And you people don’t care." To that Otter takes exception.

Otter brought up Spencer at the AP Legislative preview a few days ago. I asked him what he told the mom.

"As we find impasses, let’s then remember this child and let’s all look to the day that we can offer that eight hours back." Would have been a better closer than the traditional/obligatory god bless.

Now everyone is being escorted out in proper order.... we have to move to the presser... will continue later in a new post.

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State of the State in about an hour

Posted By on Mon, Jan 12, 2009 at 1:52 PM

Gov. C. L. "Butch" Otter's State of the State speech is about an hour out. citydesk will be there live and trying to host a running commentary on the event, if we can secure wi-fi... so check back would ya?


The speech begins at 3 p.m. at Boise State University's Special Events Center in the student union (doors close at 2:30). You can follow along on Idaho Public Television's live legislative streaming.

We are already reviewing an advance copy of the speech; the press is asked not to release it until after the speech. So ya'all have to wait. But it's well known that Otter is requesting some serious cuts to state government and his philosophical underpinnings are similar to last year's speech. And the one before, and before that.... stay tuned.


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Friday, January 9, 2009

Obama asks for DTV extension

Posted By on Fri, Jan 9, 2009 at 3:36 PM

Idaho Public Television engineer Rich Van Genderen demonstrates DTV setup for seniors at Hillcrest Library. / Gavin Dahl

President-Elect Barack Obama is asking Congress to delay the cutoff date for analog television transmission beyond Feb. 17, according to a letter from transition team co-chairman John Podesta that was obtained by Broadcasting and Cable Magazine.

BW writer Gavin Dahl forwarded the letter our way. Dahl wrote about the many outstanding problems in the DTV transition in our final issue of 2008.

Dahl's story foreshadows some of the concerns expressed in Obama's missive: 1 million coupon requests for converter boxes are outstanding and the fund is empty, poor, rural and elderly Americans will be disproportionately affected and funds to prepare the public for an end to analog TV are inadequate. Obama's team indicates that additional funding for the DTV transition will appear in an economic stimulus package, as well.

Obama staffers are already working with Congress to draft a DTV transition extension bill.

Incidentally, Idaho Public Television hosts another DTV Answers call in show tonight, at 8 p.m. By all means, call in.

UPDATE: Idaho Statesman says most Boise valley broadcasters oppose the delay.

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Idaho's new lovey-dovey delegation

Posted By on Fri, Jan 9, 2009 at 11:12 AM

Reps. Mike Simpson and Walt Minnick yuk it up.
Photo courtesy of Dixon R. Minnick.

Letter from Idaho's lovey-dovey new Congressional delegation, hoping all Idahoans make it through the tough winter ahead:

January 9, 2009

Dear Editor:
On January 6th, three of us took our public oath to serve the people of Idaho in the United States Congress--two for the first time and one for the 6th time--and the fourth moved into a new role as senior Senator. Together, we look forward to working to uphold the values of all Idahoans and promoting what is good for our families, communities and state.

2009 begins in a challenging time for our state and nation. Whether it is personal or business financial uncertainty, a loved one serving our nation overseas, health care or housing concerns, or just getting through what is proving to be a second hard winter, Idahoans have concerns about what the future will hold. While it is indeed true that there are challenges ahead in 2009, there are also tremendous opportunities to make positive gains.

You can count on your Idaho Congressional delegation to work hard, together and with Governor Otter for the good of Idaho and Idahoans. We are united in this commitment and plan to take every opportunity we can to accomplish goals that reflect Idaho's heritage of individualism, hard work and commitment to family and our unparalleled natural resources. We appreciate the opportunity to serve in public office, and pledge to work collaboratively and uphold the dignity and respect of our offices.

Respectfully,

The Idaho Congressional Delegation:
Senator Mike Crapo
Senator Jim Risch
Congressman Mike Simpson
Congressman Walt Minnick

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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Otter on fed stimulus: It's complicated

Posted By on Thu, Jan 8, 2009 at 3:16 PM

Gov. C. L. "Butch" Otter, addressing a media scrum assembled by Boise's Associated Press shop this morning, said that he's not sure he'd vote for an "economic stimulus" package were he still in Congress today.


"If I were in Congress and I looked at it, someone would have to be more convincing than they have been and I probably would say no," Otter said.

Still, Otter spoke at length about his priorities should Congress pass a bunch of cash to the states for infrastructure projects. The state has assembled some $2.4 billion [EDIT A spreadsheet provided by Otter's office indicates just under $2 billion in projects] in "shovel ready" projects that could use an infusion of federal dollars, though estimates for Idaho's share of the stimulus now hover around $75- to $100 million. The Idaho Transportation Department yesterday, put together its own wish-list, which in some cases did not jive with Otter's.

President-elect Barack Obama offered some further justifications for massive borrowing and spending today: “Only government can break the vicious cycles that are crippling our economy–where a lack of spending leads to lost jobs, which leads to even less spending,” Obama said, as quoted by the Christian Science Monitor.

Obama's proposal, which could total $800 billion according to the CSM, but may be shrinking by the day, will include money for alternative energy projects, broadband and computerized medical records.

“Yes, we’ll put people to work repairing crumbling roads, bridges, and schools by eliminating the backlog of well-planned, worthy and needed infrastructure projects. But we’ll also do more to retrofit America for a global economy," Obama said.

Many states are going right for new asphalt in their lists, ignoring the calls for repair work. Idaho Smart Growth executive director Rachel Winer suggested yesterday that the state consider using the money for transportation projects aside from just road building, including upping the percentage that goes to repair already crumbling roads.

Winer gave Idaho credit for making its stimulus request public, one of only 16 states that has done so.

Otter was asked whether this anticipatory federal stimuli might be used as an excuse by certain lawmakers to stave off road funding needs for another year, to which he responded: "I was always looking for a way to say no to an increase in taxes..." And then added that no, the stimulus will be one-time projects and Idaho Transportation Department still needs new revenue sources.

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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Dry Creek Ranch tabled till March

Posted By on Wed, Jan 7, 2009 at 8:50 PM


View Larger Map

Ada County commissioners tabled the Dry Creek Ranch planned community tonight, rescheduling it to a public hearing in March. According to county spokesman Rich Wright, the commissioners asked the developers to halve the housing density and work with the highway district on traffic mitigation.

From Ada County's press release on the hearing tonight:
By a unanimous vote, the Board of Ada County Commissioners tonight agreed to table a final decision on the Dry Creek Planned Community to a public hearing scheduled for March 11, 2009. During their deliberation, commissioners discussed their concerns about the density of the 4,300 home planned community and instructed staff to work with the applicant to explore ways the housing density could be dramatically reduced while still keeping the project viable. As proposed, the 1414 acre development would have a housing density of 8.6 dwelling units per acre. The Board of Commissioners tonight said they hoped the applicant could find a way to reduce the density to approximately 4 dwelling units per acre – a density rate that is comparable to other similar developments approved in the same general area.

In addition to concerns about housing density, the commissioners also asked the applicant to continue to work with the Idaho Transportation Department and the Ada County Highway District to develop more definitive mitigation agreements that will ensure those public transportation agencies are fully compensated for traffic mitigation efforts required if the project were allowed to move forward.

The March 11, 2009 public hearing will begin at 6pm. All land-use public hearings are held in the first floor hearing room at the Ada County Courthouse.
We wrote about planned communities in today's BW, focusing on Hidden Springs. In some ways, the only way to make a giant development like this work is to make it giant so that it can sustain some commercial activity on its own. But then you get all of the problems that density brings, like traffic. And annoying neighbors. And total ruination of Dry Creek, pictured above.

Anyone out there have a solution for this that they'd like to hip the county to?


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Short Dirt Fiction

Posted By on Wed, Jan 7, 2009 at 4:57 PM


CARS PACKED WITH DIRT
MICHAEL PRENN, STAR

Daddy watched me play with the cars. "How's the drivers see through that dirt?" he asked. Any kid knew it was a dumb question. They didn't have drivers. It was playing, that's all. I felt I had to answer something.

"They can't. They feel the track through the wheel."

He crushed out his cigarette. "Seems about right."

The ambulance came closer, no lights. Mom wheeled the oxygen tanks to the front door—weren't no use now. I raced the purple car along the porch and it flew into the pokeweed.

"Better go find that car," my dad said, and went inside.

More short, short fiction at boiseweekly.com.

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