BOISE — Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter delivered his 12th and final State of the State and Budget Address Monday, reflecting on his years in office while laying out highlights of his proposed budget for fiscal year 2019.
The governor’s hour-long speech focused primarily on his top priority for the year — education — while also highlighting tax relief and the state’s “improving” relationship with the federal government under the Trump administration.
Under Otter’s proposed budget, the state would spend 6.6 percent more than it did in fiscal year 2018, starting the year with a balance of $155.9 million and and ending with $70.2 million.
The budget proposes $123.3 million in funding for enhancing “K-through-Career” initiatives, including $41.6 million for the fourth year of the five-year career ladder plan and funding to improve professional development, college and career counseling, classroom technology and literacy for elementary students.
Throughout his speech, Otter repeatedly referred to the state’s “moonshot goal” of having 60 percent of young adults earn a postsecondary academic degree or professional-technical credential. He told reporters in a post-speech press conference that he believes the creation of a “chief education officer” to streamline functions across Idaho’s public university system will help the state reach this goal, by freeing up money that could otherwise be put toward making college more affordable.
The position, recommended by the governor’s higher education task force, is projected to cost the state $769,500, including a salary of about $200,000 a year.
“There’s no doubt these changes will upend the status quo,” Otter said in his address. “They will mean less working from isolated silos and more rowing in the same direction.”
Otter’s proposed plan includes $115 million in tax relief over three years through reducing the unemployment insurance tax.
“As I said at the end of the 2017 legislative session, unemployment tax relief is job one for 2018,” Otter said.
The budget also includes $97.7 million in relief by substantially conforming to tax changes at the federal level. The proposal would drop income tax rates by 0.45 percent in all brackets for both individuals and businesses and create a $85 nonrefundable Idaho dependent tax credit.
When asked by reporters what he would do if a bill cutting the state’s grocery tax were to come across his desk again — a situation that ended in a veto and subsequent legal challenge at the end of last year’s session — Otter expressed support for keeping a tax on groceries.
“If you enjoy a government service and that government service is driving up and down the highway, or police protection…I don’t care what it is, you should pay some tax,” he said. “I’m not going to try to tell everybody how much they should pay. But you should pay a tax. And in many cases, that’s the only tax they pay.”
Relationship with the federal government
This year brought “a renaissance of responsiveness and regulatory relief from our national government,” Otter told legislators. “It has been especially refreshing to see the Trump administration’s willingness to seek our input — to really listen and embrace the value of state perspectives on issues that affect us most directly.”
He cited as one example the “Good Neighbor Authority,” a collaboration between the Forest Service and the state that allows logging on federal lands. The partnership has resulted in the Department of Lands selling and overseeing the harvest of 6 million board feet of timber from fire salvage and forest thinning projects over the past year, Otter said, bringing in upwards of $1.8 million in revenue.
Another example of the state’s “improving relationship with the feds,” according to the governor, are rangeland fire protection associations: groups of local ranchers professionally trained, with the help of federal agencies, to fight wildfires.
“Of course, there are still challenges,” Otter said. “Obstructionists in Congress and the undue influence of a carryover proscribe-and-punish mentality in some federal agencies are still slowing progress. But we’re having fewer ‘mother may I’ moments with our federal partners.”
“There’s no doubt these changes will upend the status quo. They will mean less working from isolated silos and more rowing in the same direction.” Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter