In Fiscal Year 2010, Idaho taxpayers have spent an average of nearly $8,200 per month to bring the government to the citizens … literally. Between July 2009 and February 2010, Gov. Butch Otter’s “Capital for a Day” program had a price tag of more than $65,000, and not all state officials believe it’s a good use of money.
Capital for a Day is a town-hall style meeting, conducted at a selected small town each month. Last July, Gov. Otter and the state contingent travelled to Mackey to get some face time with citizens there. In August, Ririe was Capital for a Day, followed by Kendrick in September, Dubois in October, Lava Hot Springs in November, Carey in December, Shoshone in January, Hazleton in February, Nezperce in March, and Oakley in April.
“The governor believes it’s important to reach out to citizens in every part of the state,” said his press secretary, John Hanian. “Not every constituent can take time out of his day to come here (to Boise). His philosophy is we’re the servants of the people, not the other way around.”
Given the tightness of the budget, and decreased revenue to state coffers, is the Capital for a Day program a wise use of taxpayers’ dollars? Rep. Steve Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, thinks it is. “What’s not to like about a program that gets the functionaries of government out in the field? It’s a good idea, it’s working pretty well, people are showing up, it’s not scripted in any way. I don’t have a problem with it.”
But Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, doesn’t quite see it the same way. She has attended three Capital for a Day meetings, and likes the idea, but thinks it should be done with fewer people. “Especially given the fact that we’ve cut back on these agencies so much, to have an agency head who should be home working, to be out instead with the governor, is not a really good use of time and resources.”
Accompanying Otter on his Capital for a Day trips are a host of government officials. In April’s trip to Oakley, for instance, Superintendant of Public Instruction Tom Luna, Agriculture Director Celia Gould, Insurance Director Bill Deal, ITD Director Brian Ness, and other officials and staff members made the trip. The town hall meeting is an all-day affair, usually lasting from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Those officials and their staff members who attend are paid for the meetings, and their salaries make up the lion’s share of the cost of the program. According to public records, in FY2010, $52,271 of the amount spent from July to February went to salaries.
To get there, Hanian said the officials take state vehicles if the town is close enough, or if not, they fly. Transportation costs amount for $12,207 in the same time period. Per diem is not reflected in the records, but Hanian says it’s not often that anyone has to stay at a hotel overnight, or eat more than one meal on the road.