In anticipation of today's State of the State message from Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, Citydesk has been listening to citizens, measuring their hopes, expectations and, yes, fears of what may come out of the 2012 Idaho Legislature.
Shortly after Otter finished his afternoon address, in which he proposed a small increase for K-12 public education spending, $60 million for rainy day funds, $41 million for one-time bonuses for state workers, and $45 million in tax relief, we began hearing from our citizen commentators, including a caregiver, a small-business owner, a river guide, a computer programmer and a former inmate who now is a manager of a Boise business.
Scott Deseelhorst, who owns Snake River Winery with his wife, Susan, initially told us he wanted to hear more specifics from the governor but he wasn't thrilled with the idea of government workers getting lump sums of cash.
"Everybody I talked to is tired of government employees. They're doing pretty well in these hard economic times," said Deseelhorst. "Why is he rewarding the public employees? I don't understand how they would ever be incentivized. What is he actually rewarding them for?"
In anticipation of today's State of the State address, Citydesk has been listening to engaged citizens who are offering their own hopes for Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's vision and the 2012 edition of the Idaho Legislature.
Earl Mitchell, a 28-year-old computer programmer who recently moved back to Boise, is looking for a conservative fiscal environment balanced by a progressive social culture.
"Idaho's government could stand to be more socially liberal," said Mitchell. "But in the long term, it is much more economically important that the state machinery remain fiscally sound."
Lea Bowman, a social worker who provides hospice care, is looking for greater compassion from lawmakers.
"I find it astonishing that we think we can leave people stranded with challenges like severe mental illness, substance abuse issues, overwhelming disability, or just the ever-more-common story of being laid off, plus cut education and services for at-risk families," said Bowman. "And expect crime rates to stay low, maintenance of a healthy workforce, connected communities, strong families and a good environment for new business."
Scott Deseelhorst, who owns Snake River Winery with his wife Susan, is hoping for an economic climate that is more friendly to smaller businesses.
"It seems like it's not an easy environment to not only start a business but to sustain a business," said Deseelhorst. "[Otter] wants to help ag specifically as far as business, but what about the little guys?"
Jackie Nefzger, who has run Mackay Wilderness Trips with her partner since 1991, wants lawmakers to take greater care in supporting Idaho's natural resources.
"This state is dying and we need tourism," said Nefzger. "The Frank Church Wilderness brings millions [of dollars] to the state."
Warren Bussey, who currently manages a floral delivery service, also knows a thing or two about one of Idaho's largest cost centers: the Department of Correction. Bussey has spent time behind bars at an IDOC prison.
"Lack of education is why our prisons are so overcrowded," said Bussey. "Right now, we spend millions on extended sentences, when many of these people would benefit from counseling and other treatments that would prepare them for earlier release."
We'll be hearing from these citizens and others as we solicit their thoughts on today's State of the State address.
Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter stands before the Idaho Legislature at 1 p.m. today, when he will lay out his own priorities and proposed budget. Shortly thereafter, the Idaho House and Senate will begin the task of embracing Otter's vision or setting out on their own before crafting a new spending plan for Fiscal Year 2013.
BW will be live-blogging throughout Otter's address today, plus we'll be tweeting reaction from each corner of the Statehouse as we once more venture Unda' the Rotunda.
Additionally, in this Wednesday's edition of BW, we'll ask you to consider three important but distinct numbers during the course of the 2012 legislative session.
When Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter talks about ideas, Trent Cutler wants Idaho's chief executive to think more about those who come up with the ideas.
Cutler, 28, is an Idaho native. He graduated from Boise State three years ago and in 2011 married his new bride, Amanda. Together they purchased their first home. Cutler currently works in tech support at MetaGeek, a local tech start-up that develops what it calls "spectrum analyzer tools."
Cutler has seen big tax incentives on the table when it comes to Idaho's larger tech companies, like Micron or Hewlett-Packard, but when Otter gives his State of the State address on Monday, Cutler would like to hear more about the talent and less about about the corporations.
"I would tell the governor that if or when the big tech companies like Micron and HP start to fall, keep the talent in Idaho by creating incentives for entrepreneurs and researchers," said Cutler.
Warren Bussey looks at Idaho through many different prisms, having had unique experiences that allow him to see the strengths and challenges of many of the state's programs and divisions in different ways. Bussey has been a manager in the food service and construction industries. He has lived in transitional housing. He currently oversees At Its Best Florist, a flower delivery service in Boise. Bussey fits a fairly common demographic: a middle-aged white male taxpayer. But he also had another unique experience—having served a prison sentence at the Idaho Department of Correction after being convicted of embezzlement.
Like many Idahoans, Bussey looks to the 2012 Idaho Legislature to make smart budget choices, specifically when it comes to two of the largest pieces of Idaho's financial pie: education and correction.
"Lack of education is why our prisons are so over-crowded," said Bussey. "If legislators made the Department of Correction more efficient, such that less time and money was spent keeping people incarcerated, maybe there would be more resources left over for improvement of education. Right now, we spend millions on extended sentences, when many of these people would benefit from counseling and other treatments that would prepare them for earlier release."
When Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter kicks off the 2012 Idaho legislative session on Monday with his State of the State address, he will once again launch a four-month debate about what's best for Idaho.
Jackie Nefzger wants lawmakers, and Otter in particular, to focus more on Idaho itself.
"I would love to hear the governor—who put a knife in the Frank Church Wilderness last summer—apologize for that at the State of the State," said Nefzger, referring to Otter's comments that one hole at a Coeur d'Alene golf course brought in more money on one day than the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness brings in an entire year.
Nefzger, secretary and general manager of Mackay Wilderness Trips, which she has run with her partner since 1991, offers high-end backcountry trips, including whitewater rafting, fishing and even hunting trips. She even helped push the Idaho Whitewater license plate through the legislature, and assists in deciding where the funds go in an effort to rebrand Idaho for its whitewater instead of potatoes.
"[Otter] doesn't realize how important tourism is to the state of Idaho," said Nefzger. "He's a silver spoon. This state is dying and we need tourism. The Frank Church Wilderness brings millions [of dollars] to the state."
Nefzger said she's also pretty tired of large companies being given what she called massive tax breaks at the expense of the state and small businesses.
"Look at who has the power in the Idaho Legislature," said Nefzger. "They're all from farming communities. It's the gold-old-boy system. [The legislature] just cuts taxes and do what goes along with that. They don't support tourism. They think we should be cutting down trees."
Nefzger said with such a small tourism budget, she doesn't have much hope for adequate funding.
"You won't get those guys to give tourism a dime after they've gutted education," she said.
Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter is fond of promoting alternative energy projects. He talks regularly about Idaho's larger-scale wind and solar farms, either under construction or being proposed. It's a good bet that Otter will again mention such developments when he gives his State of the State Address Monday afternoon.
In advance of the 2012 session of the Idaho Legislature, Jeff Roth, president of Sunlution LLC, would like to see more lawmakers become advocates for alternative energy.
"I'd like to see our local government leaders become much more active advocates of solar photovoltaics," said Roth. "PV is a clean, reliable and very cost effective 25- to 50-year energy generation tool in the U.S. energy toolbox and needs to be characterized and supported in a valid and and realistic way by our appointed leaders. It is the only way it will find its true and practical value in a less secure U.S. energy portfolio that is controlled by special interest money and competing subsidies."
For all of the talk about microchips, potatoes and timber being Idaho's best-known exports, another industry is seeing significant growth—literally and figuratively: the wine industry, which is growing grapes and bottling world-class wine.
Scott Deseelhorst owns Snake River Winery with his wife Susan. They grow 14 different varietals on 86 acres of the Snake River Valley and ship 4,000-5,000 cases per year.
When Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter delivers his State of the State address on Monday the Deseelhorsts will be paying close attention to see how lawmakers will lead the Gem State beyond a recession and help small businesses, such as their winery, continue to grow.
"What I'm mostly interested in is what he's really doing and proposing to do for small- to medium-size businesses in Idaho," said Scott. "I'd like to see a little bit less regulation in licensing and permitting—in my business there's so many things involved. It seems like it's not an easy environment to not only start a business but to sustain a business. He wants to help ag specifically as far as business, but what about the little guys?"
Perhaps no other issue garnered more emotion in last year's session of the Idaho Legislature than the debate over Medicaid. Tears flowed as scores of disabled Idahoans made their way to the Statehouse to beg that their services not be victimized by draconian budget cuts. The same debates are expected to reoccur in the coming months.
Lea Bowman understands the struggle of the disabled and infirm as well as anyone. She's a mastered social worker who provides hospice care. When Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and the Idaho Legislature again begin debating on what stays and what goes in a state budget, Bowman wants them to consider those who don't traditionally have a voice at the Statehouse.
"Budget cuts hurt already vulnerable populations, never the wealthy," said Bowman. "The wealthy do not depend on Medicaid for their healthcare, food stamps for their meals, and subsidized housing for their shelter. These are the programs that suffer cuts when there are budget shortfalls, because these programs are funded by the dirtiest word in Idaho: taxes."
Bowman said it's heartbreaking to consider the fate of men, women and children whose lives hang in the balance when budgets are slashed and burned.
"I find it astonishing that we think we can leave people stranded with challenges like severe mental illness, substance abuse issues, overwhelming disability, or just the ever more common story of being laid off—plus cut education and services for at-risk families—and expect crime rates to stay low, maintenance of a healthy workforce, connected communities, strong families, and a good environment for new business. The only thing that keeps money flowing into our government, and therefore sustaining vital human programs, is taxes. I wish the Idaho Legislature would get over its irrational fear of the idea and have some honest discussions about tax system restructuring. It is a huge elephant in the room in this state but seems the easiest and best way we can take care of our most vulnerable, as well as invest in the future of Idaho."
Brett Randall is looking for work.
Randall, 25, is a graduate of Boise State with a degree in communications. Following his 2010 graduation he traveled a bit but recently returned to his hometown of Eagle, ready to settle down and find employment.
But Randall now joins the tens of thousands of Idahoans who are either unemployed or underemployed. So when Randall listens to Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter deliver his annual State of the State address on Monday, Randall will be looking for some real answers to a basic question: "Where is Idaho going?"
"That all I want to know," said Randall. "We don't seem to be making any decisions that are going to help us in the long run, and why is that? We sure seem to be constructing a lot but with no real focus. We're interested in establishing ourselves but not establishing a functioning community."
Idaho's Department of Labor reports that the Gem State's most recent unemployment rate of 8.5 percent doesn't include the thousands of Idahoans who have given up looking for work and are no longer tracked by state officials.