Gov. Butch Otter laid out his legislative priorities during his State of the State address in Boise Monday, painting a picture of more spending, investments and outlays in fiscal year 2015.
Overall, Otter wants lawmakers to increase spending by 3.7 percent next year, or about $104 million. The governor seeks spending approval for about $2.95 billion in state dollars.
The rate of increase drops slightly when including federal and other dollars. According to the governor’s budget documents, he wants lawmakers to approve a total budget including a 2.5 percent spending hike next year. The total budget he seeks is about $7.35 billion in 2015.
The budget includes myriad spending initiatives, including $37.5 million more for Idaho schools, $15 million additional dollars for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, $14 million more for higher education and $16 million more for corrections.
Otter also seeks to spend $1 million on the state’s constitutional defense fund, which will pay to defend Idaho’s amendment banning gay marriage.
The governor, who boasts about his affection for limited government during election years, said in his address that he doesn’t mind growing government, as long as the rate of increase is lower than the private sector.
“I will not sanction growing our state government as fast as our economy and I will continue to work for greater efficiency, effectiveness, stability and predictability in fulfilling the proper roles of government,” Otter pledged.
That affirmation evidenced itself in his budget plans. The governor called for $30 million in tax reductions in 2015, though his staffers told reporters that boosting education spending will come first and cuts second.
The governor’s staff also said that the governor hasn’t decided which taxes he’d like to see cut and that the reduction discussion rests with state lawmakers.
But will lawmakers go along with plan to spend more? Maybe, maybe not.
Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, told IdahoReporter.com that he’s very hesitant to build a budget that includes permanent spending increases. “I just don’t have an appetite for spending increases,” Palmer said.
That doesn’t mean, though, that’s he completely averse to bumping up some budgets. Increasing education spending to pre-recession rates, he said, could win his support, though he’d be cautious on that, too. “I’d probably go along with that,” Palmer said.
But as for the governor’s other initiatives, Palmer referred to them as “suggestions.”
Similarly skeptical is Rep. Brandon Hixon, R-Caldwell. The first-term lawmaker said that he isn’t entirely opposed to adding more money to the schools budget, but hopes budget writers examine current spending for efficiencies before adding more.
“I don’t think simply throwing more money at a problem is the way to go,” Hixon said.
Cory Eucalitto, a senior research analyst with the Washington, D.C.-based State Budget Solutions, agreed with Hixon.
“I think the biggest problem is that spending more and more each year doesn't guarantee better outcomes,” he said in an email Monday. “The tendency to do so, and it really occurs across all states, is partially a product of budget processes that base current year expenditures on the previous year's.”
Instead of simply adding expected growth for 2015 on top of 2014’s budget numbers, Eucalitto suggested lawmakers should start from zero and work up from there, which he said would likely cause a deeper evaluation of spending.
“Ultimately, the money is coming out of citizens' pockets, and they deserve to know that it is being spent efficiently and effectively,” he wrote.