Gov. Butch Otter Monday laid out his plans for the coming fiscal year beginning in July, and lawmakers - Republican and Democrat alike - found areas of agreement with the governor, but also reason for concern. And, in some areas, they noted a lack of details in his speech.
At his annual State of the State speech Monday, Otter told lawmakers about his plans to add money to education, fill some reserve accounts, provide bonuses for state workers and invest in a tech company startup fund. The governor also outlined a plan to reduce taxes by $45 million, though he didn't give specifics on how that might come to pass.
Rep. Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell, vice chair of the powerful Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC), said Otter’s tax reduction plan – though vague – has some backing in the House, though the idea may not sail through the Capitol.
Bolz said that a number of legislators want to make Idaho’s business climate more attractive by cutting taxes, but also believes some lawmakers aren’t ready to reduce revenues when state agencies may still be reeling from past years’ budget cuts.
“I think it’s just a question of sitting down and looking at the numbers and seeing if we can afford it or not,” Bolz told IdahoReporter.com
Though Bolz believes there are some preferable elements in Otter’s 2013 budget, the JFAC vice chairman says many lawmakers may fight over the education funding aspect. Through the education reforms bills last year, budget writers are now required to take some of the money from teacher salaries and put it toward school technology and other areas.
“That will be a very debatable issue this year,” he said, adding that the amount could be as much as $18 million taken from teacher salaries and directed elsewhere.
House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, told IdahoReporter.com that he is elated that no more cuts will come to essential programs including education, though he would like to see more funding directed to public schools. “We’re still $150 million short of where we were in 2007 with just as many or more students,” Rusche said. Otter has scheduled $31 million more for public schools, along with another $26 million in teacher one-time bonuses if revenues keep up with projections.
Rusche also applauds Otter for directing more funding to higher education, including $16.9 million more for universities and $4.3 million in additional funding for community colleges.
Rusche is skeptical, however, about the tax relief plan as a means to job creation. He believes there are other factors more important than just taxes when companies are examiningIdahoto relocate. He is also curious about the details because Otter hasn’t given specifics about how he would like taxes cut. “We don’t know who it’s going to, we don’t know what it’s doing, but we do know we want to do it because it’s going to make jobs,” Rusche said. “I think that’s pretty nebulous. It’s pretty much wishful thinking, especially when you look at the data on what produces jobs.”
Rusche said government might do better by spending more on roads, infrastructure and education to create livable communities.