Gov. Jim Risch, in addressing a large ballroom full of legislators, lobbyists, business leaders and more as the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho annual conference’s keynote speaker, made an unusually early announcement of what his economists expect for state general tax revenue in the coming year – a key figure because it’s the amount that serves as the basis for the state budget lawmakers will set. “It’s going to be slightly north of $2.7 billion that the Legislature will deal with this year,” Risch told the crowd. He added that he “spilled the beans” early. The figure is up from this year’s $2.3 billion, reflecting continued strong economic growth in the state. Risch shared some of the priorities he’s writing into his proposed budget for next year – something he’s required by law to develop, then turn over to Gov.-Elect Butch Otter. “I have every confidence that he will take that budget and make it substantially better before he presents it to you,” Risch declared.
There’s no saying how many of Risch’s detailed proposals Otter will choose to propose to lawmakers. Otter wasn’t around to say because he’s still back in Washington, D.C. finishing out his term as the congressman from Idaho’s 1st District. Risch said, “Come January first, we’re going to have a new governor. An army can only have one leader. …. It’s important that we all get behind him. He is going to be the leader come Jan. 1.”
Among the budget plans Risch unveiled today: He wants to double last year’s legislative commitment of $5 million for challenge grants to expand broadband service to additional Idaho communities, which has reached 73 so far. Risch said he’s written in $10 million in one-time money for that, “because that’s been so successful.”
He promoted his nursing education initiative, which includes $15 million, $4 million of that ongoing. He called for spending $6.5 million to continue the “Access to Recovery” anti-substance abuse program when a federal grant goes away. He said he’s proposing $875,000 for the final funding piece to start construction on a sorely needed detox center in Boise. And he touted his plan to phase out the sales tax on groceries over six years, though Otter’s backed increasing the grocery tax credit instead. Risch also called for a new law to prevent state elected officials from granting employees bonuses without approval from the state Board of Examiners, a swipe at outgoing Democratic state schools Supt. Marilyn Howard.
On property taxes, Risch said, “I shouldn’t gloat. However, perhaps you noticed that 72 percent of Idahoans said we did the right thing.” Risch noted that his tax shift plan – which cut property taxes statewide by $260 million while raising the sales tax a penny – won the endorsement of 72 percent of voters in an advisory vote in the November election. “I think we did the right thing,” he said.
Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, said he’s been hearing similar sentiments from his constituents. “Every day since people got their tax bills, I’ve been getting phone calls, people stop me at church or at the supermarket, saying, ‘Thank you – it’s worked out exactly as you said it would,’” Henderson said.
Risch was introduced to the crowd amid praise over his accomplishments in his short seven-month term as governor, from the major tax reform bill he pushed through in a special session of the Legislature to his work on plans for roadless areas. Tom Ryder, a Simplot Corp. executive who chaired the taxpayers association conference, said of Risch, “He is our hero because he gets things done.” Henderson said, “I can tell you, Jim Risch has gained so much respect. Wow, he’s gonna be a hard act to follow.”