Monday, January 12, 2015

State of the State: Otter Calls for More Community Colleges, Tax Cuts, Defense of 'Traditional Marriage'

Posted By on Mon, Jan 12, 2015 at 2:00 PM

Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter was escorted into the chambers of the Idaho Legislature at 1 p.m. Monday, nearly one hour after the legislature gaveled its 2015 session into order.

It only took six minutes for Otter to fire his first salvo at a federal government which he said had "neither rhyme nor reason in how the government does or does not do its job."

As for state government, Otter said he looked forward to a session of compromise. "Our process is not designed to satisfy everyone. Nothing ever can," he said.

Otter's to-do list begins with education, he said, which was met by polite applause. In particular, said he was proposing a 7.4 percent bump in public education funding, versus his proposed budget's overall 5.2 percent increase. Otter said he also was calling for a $20 million bump in what he called "discretionary operating funds" for local school districts throughout the state.

In regards to the much-embattled Idaho Education Network, which was crippled by a 4th District Court judge's ruling which found that the state had broken the law when it altered a contract to manage the $60 million program. Federal funds dried up, and makeshift funding to keep IEN going at least a few months into 2015 has left the network in a state of flux. But Otter said Monday afternoon that IEN was "an asset that must be maintained."   

"I'm confident and committed, starting with rebidding the contracts, to have full funding for the operations of IEN for Fiscal Year 2016 (which begins July1)," said Otter.

The governor also had particular praise for the College of Western Idaho. "It's hard to even imagine (the Treasure Valley) without CWI," he said. But now, Otter said he wants to see more Idaho communities explore the possibility of creating their own two-year colleges, and he said it would be a prime topic of discussion as he continues to visit each corner of the Gem State in his "Capital for a Day" tour which will return in 2015.

Also of high priority, Otter said, was what he called "the elephant in the room."

"We already have over 175 bridges across Idaho that are over 50 years old and are structurally insufficient," said the governor. "It's a real problem."

But Otter was short on solutions, referring to "all that I have learned and we have learned in recent years," alluding to his past failures of convincing the legislature to approve funding for Idaho roads and bridges.

"However, I will not entertain proposals that compete for general fund tax dollars for such things as education," said Otter, thus landing the multi-billion dollar problem squarely in the laps of the Idaho House and Senate transportation committees.

On the topic of taxes, Otter said he was proposing a drop of Idaho's top income tax rate of 7.4 percent down to 6.9 percent over the next five years, promising a tax cut for up to 51 percent of Idaho taxpayers by 2018.

He also called for a more robust collection of Idaho sales tax on Internet sales.

"I appreciate your help in continuing to reduce the tax burden on Idaho citizens," Otter added. "Because of your efforts, we've kept $157 million in the hands of Idahoans during the current fiscal year and that number grows to $169 in Fiscal Year 2016."

Otter said he was also calling for an additional $3 million for the Idaho Opportunity Fund at the Idaho Department of Commerce, specifically earmarked for water, power, wastewater treatment and road upgrades in order to expand local businesses.

Otter added that he was also advocating for the creation of an additional behavioral health center for Idaho after already opening one facility in eastern Idaho in 2014. General consensus is that a second mental health center could go in northern Idaho.

Otter also took the opportunity to tell a statewide broadcast audience during the speech that he would continue to defend what he called "traditional marriage" which "represent the intentions and values of the citizens of Idaho." Otter said he would continue to defend Article 3, Section 28 of the Idaho Constitution which was ruled in 2014 to be unconstitutional. Otter's comments were met by silence from Democratic legislators while the majority of the GOP lawmakers applauded.

But as Otter wrapped his 2015 State of the State address, he made no reference to Add the Words, nor Medicaid expansion, nor Idaho's minimum wage.

And so it begins.

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