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Hits and misses from Otter’s opening shot

Hits and misses from Otter’s opening shot

Wayne Hoffman
January 14, 2013
Wayne Hoffman
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January 14, 2013

I have a genuinely mixed review of Gov. Butch Otter’s policy proposals for the 2013 legislative session.  But that doesn’t surprise me, and it shouldn’t surprise you. Anyone who subscribes to or rejects everything said by Butch Otter or Barack Obama or Wayne Hoffman isn’t really listening. Nobody is perfect.

So there’s much to love about our governor, and generally, his positions. Likewise, there’s much of which to disapprove. Here’s my take on the governor’s remarks on our Legislature’s opening day:

The governor says he wants to continue rebuilding state budget rainy day accounts. This is smart, given the absurdity of Washington, D.C., politics that will continue to be an albatross around the neck of the economy for the foreseeable future. But vast portions of Otter’s budget fail to reflect this reality, even though last summer he asked state agencies for an accounting of all federal funds and programs in order to prepare for the likely decimation of the federal revenue stream. That means the Legislature will need to proactively re-ask the questions that Otter asked and find ways to cut the cord on unnecessary federal programs within state government.

The governor continues to promote tax cuts, which is great, including eventual repeal of the personal property tax. But he dropped a bomb on otherwise supportive evangelists for low taxes, me included, when he said he’d be willing to consider giving local Idaho governments taxation authority to make up for lost revenue. Otter also continues to support tax cuts directed at economic activities favored by the government instead of tax cuts that broadly empower the free market.

Otter’s budget is a vast improvement over last year’s, with a growth rate of slightly more than 3 percent. It’s still too much, and there are items within his budget that could easily be trimmed out to produce a much more austere spending plan in order to free money for additional tax relief.

Otter rejected expansion of the state’s Medicaid system, and he also offered that the current system is in need of an overhaul. That’s extremely gratifying, as we’ve been discussing adoption of reforms such as those in Florida that have injected consumer choice into the equation, resulting in lower costs and better patient outcomes.

However, Otter, not surprisingly, reiterated his support for an Obamacare insurance exchange. And it is the way he did it that was most disappointing. He said, “the fact remains that for now and for the foreseeable future (Obamacare) is the law. And as responsible elected officials we’re sworn to uphold the rule of law—not just those laws that we support.” As if refusal to create an exchange will violate federal law. It won’t. And leaving legislators to believe otherwise isn’t helpful.

The other day, a reporter asked me to grade the governor’s proposals. I can’t. A speech is just a speech. And a budget proposal is just a proposal. They have no real effect on Idahoans, life or liberty. The real test—and the real grades—will come as lawmakers dive into their work and decide which of his propositions to accept and reject.

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