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?