Eliminate a tax on business, build a new mental health facility for prisoners, start a state run health insurance exchange: all things Governor Butch Otter said he wanted to do in his annual State of the State address Monday. But as Adam Cotterell reports, Otter says one thing trumps them all.
First came the preliminaries: welcomes, thank yous, a nod to Abraham Lincoln for creating the Idaho Territory a hundred and fifty years ago this year. But then it was time for the money. Otter’s first announcement in the State of the State was a proposal to raise state spending as a whole by 3.1 percent. That’s based on an estimated 5.3 percent increase in revenue.
Otter: “I’ve brought you a General Fund budget recommendation that is structurally sound, like you, my highest priority remains public schools. You will find that my budget recommendation includes increased funding for K-12 education.”
But a former Otter adviser says the governor isn’t putting his money where his mouth is. Mike Ferguson, Otter’s former chief economist who now directs the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy, says Otter’s proposed 2 percent increase in education spending does not make schools a top priority.
Ferguson: “Personal income growth is about 3 percent. So that means that we’re slipping further behind. I mean that’s a trend that doesn’t bode well for the future of education in Idaho.”
Otter’s proposal would increase school funding by $25 million. But that would still leave the state $113 million short of education spending before the recession. Ferguson says that shows a lack of commitment. Especially he adds, when in the same speech Otter urged lawmakers to repeal the personal property tax. That brought in $114 million last year.
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