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Otter grows state government by leaps and bounds in new budget

Otter grows state government by leaps and bounds in new budget

Dustin Hurst
January 11, 2016

Gov. Butch Otter’s new budget plan spends big on Idaho public schools, colleges and universities, and gives no tax relief to Idahoans.

Otter’s budget boosts spending 8.5  percent over 2015, a figure well above his administration’s 4.9 percent revenue growth estimate for the year.

The three-term governor calls for $116 million more in spending for Idaho’s public schools, a 7.9 hike above last year’s budget for that expense.

The request includes hikes of nearly $40 million in new teacher pay, as part of the career ladder system approved last year, along with $10 million to purchase technology -- computers, tablets and the like -- for Idaho classrooms.

The governor also included a $10 million request to fund reading intervention for students in kindergarten through third grade.

“If we’re serious about wanting long-term improvement in school outcomes, we must intensify our efforts to provide the kind of proven support that works for students who struggle to develop reading skills in those early school years,” Otter told the joint legislative session.

Additionally, the governor asked for $5 million for educator mentoring, another $5 million to counsel students about secondary education options, and provides school districts with nearly $30 million for discretionary items.

Otter defended the massive spending increase request during his address, telling lawmakers the new money helps make education whole after the Great Recession forced legislators to cut school spending in 2010.

“We made promises during the Great Recession that we are duty-bound to fulfill,” Otter said. “We have priorities for Idaho’s future that require world-class K-12 schools and an advanced, responsive post-secondary education system.”

Otter’s proposed budget calls for a 9.6 percent hike in community college spending, along with an 8.8 percent boost for universities.

In addition to the line-item spending hikes for colleges and universities, Otter’s administration also wants to set aside $5 million for the governor’s new Tuition Lock proposal, which could guarantee tuition rates for new students at Gem State post-secondary schools. The proposal would allow freshmen to “lock in” their tuition rates for four years if they keep their grades high.

That plan, if lawmakers approve it, would not have an immediate cost this year, but would in future years as students progress through their classes.

The governor also seeks $30 million to pay for his new health care program, which will provide basic medical services for thousands of Idahoans who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, but who make too little to get subsidized private insurance through the state’s health exchange.

Otter’s budget redirects cigarette tax revenue to fund the new program.

Otter’s budget also provides more than $1.4 million to help state agencies prevent and respond to wildfires. The money comes after 2015’s fire season burned more than 742,000 acres of Idaho land.

The governor did not include any tax cuts in his budget.

In all, the governor calls for $3.29 billion in general fund spending. Lawmakers will review the budget through the next few weeks and begin to set spending levels in mid-February.  

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