Gov. Butch Otter’s new government feedback website has generated more than 100 possible fixes to state government since it was launched a month ago in his State of the State address. The governor will take steps to address some of the suggestions in the next few days, according to his press secretary, Jon Hanian.
“I want to thank the hundreds of Idahoans from every walk of life who are going online and offering opinions, insights, and perspectives on our State budget,” Otter said about the website in his State of the State address Jan. 12. “Those ideas are appreciated and an important part of our considerations.”
The website combines a suggestion box with a popularity contest. Anyone can submit an idea for state government and cast 10 votes for other ideas they like. There’s no way to vote down ideas people oppose. The most popular idea by far is a 7-cent tax on plastic shopping bags. That suggestion received 128 votes, as of Feb. 12. The next highest suggestion, raising taxes on alcohol and cigarettes, has 54 votes. The third most popular idea would also bring in more revenue to the state: legalizing and taxing marijuana. Proposed spending reductions that have gathered support include consolidating public school districts, eliminating the Idaho State Police (ISP), and reducing salaries for the governor, his staff, and lawmakers. Superintendent Tom Luna has said he will address school consolidation in the next few weeks. The combined general fund spending - including salaries and operating expenses - for ISP, the governor’s office, and the Legislature in Otter’s proposed budget totals $24.5 million. Legislative budget writers are looking at having to find a reduction of $69 million in the current budget beyond Otter’s budget presented last month.
The website contains some ideas that the governor and lawmakers have discussed, including reducing funding for Idaho Public Television and other agencies or postponing consolidated elections set to start next year. Other ideas for savings, including eliminating kindergarten, giving state workers fewer holidays, and limiting inmates in state prisons to two meals a day, have not had hearings. Some proposals on the website, including banning texting while driving or having the Legislature appoint U.S. senators, wouldn’t have a direct fiscal benefit to the state.
Hanian said Otter will respond to the ideas in the next week. “All those are being weighed right now, and we’re expecting something next week,” Hanian said. “We view it as another tool that is convenient for folks to make their voices heard and opinions known.” Hanian said the governor’s pleased with the amount of activity on the site. “It’s up there. People have voted. Would we like to have more? Sure. Anytime you have a site where people can go and make their comments known, the more comments the better. But we’ll take the comments that have been made and review them.”
Top vote-getting ideas on the Idaho Efficiency Feedback Forum website, as of Feb. 12
|A $0.07 fee on plastic shopping bags||
|Increase taxes on alcohol and cigarettes||
|Legalize and tax marijuana||
|Treat lawmakers as part-time employees for health benefits||
|Reduce funding for the Idaho Meth Project||
|Consolidate school districts||
|Reduce salaries for the governor, his staff, and legislators||
|Require annual financial reports for the state, counties, and cities||
|Institute a statewide four-day work week||
|Add productivity requirements for food stamps and Medicaid||
|Eliminate Idaho State Police and city police departments||
|Ban texting while driving||
|Reduce the size of public school administration||