Otter’s grades reflect the governor’s lackluster leadership

Fred Birnbaum Articles

After Idaho’s Legislature finished the people’s business, Gov. Butch Otter gave lawmakers a report card for their work.

He said legislators deserved an “absolute A” for their support for the education task force’s recommendations. In simple terms, lawmakers coughed up $125 million for the career ladder for teachers and increased general fund education spending by more than 7 percent

A more conservative governor, one concerned with restraining spending and using outcome-based budgeting, would have said, “well, we increased spending by more than 7 percent and gave the education establishment and teachers unions what they wanted – now let’s see if they deliver measurable results.”

For decades, fiscal conservatives and even moderates have rallied around the notion that you don’t solve problems by simply throwing money at them. It seems Otter never got that message. He didn’t discuss eliminating waste or administrative duplication.

And there is waste in our school system, never mind what union foot soldiers might tell you. The Coeur d’Alene School District, for example, just paid out $4,800 for one juggler. No joke.

After praising the ballooned school budget, Otter then noted that there were a lot of incomplete marks on the report card. He also gave legislators a D-/C+ for an incomplete on transportation funding.

In order, to embrace the governor’s grading scheme you have to accept the $95 million tax increase for roads was insufficient, that general funds should be largely excluded from funding roads, and the $262 million funding gap is a thoroughly vetted number.

What is puzzling is that the Idaho Transportation Department’s latest five-year plan offers some good reasons to question some of these assumptions. ITD’s own stated goal is 82 percent of all state highways be maintained in good or fair condition. That rate has increased from 80 percent in 2006 to 86 percent in 2012 with a 2014 update putting that number at 85 percent.

Similarly, bridges in good condition have increased from 67 percent in 2006 to 74 percent in 2014, short of the 80 percent goal, but a significant improvement.

So while Otter is giving poor grades on roads and bridges, ITD employees are “delivering on promises,” according to their own report.

In the final analysis, Otter has forgotten everything that has been learned about public sector budgeting in the last 50 years and has embraced the mantra that more money equates to good governance and a healthy skepticism is no longer necessary.