Gov. Butch Otter was a little coy as he began his keynote speech to the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho today, saying, “You’re here today to hear about the future and what to expect in the 2008 Legislature. Well, I don’t want to disappoint you, but I’m not gonna tell you.” Then, he said, “I will give you a few hints.” And he proceeded to outline major proposals including taking away the millions in gas tax funds that now go to cities and counties and the $17 million that funds the Idaho State Police, in order to allow all gas tax revenues to be spent on state highways. The state police, Otter said, should be funded by all taxpayers through the general fund, and he promised to support local-option taxes to allow cities or counties to address their own, unique transportation needs.
Still, while Otter pledged to back that, he also said he wouldn’t vote for a local tax to fund public transit in his own county. The reason? He’s not convinced of the efficiency of public transit, because even in busy Washington, D.C., where he rode packed Metro trains for six years as a congressman, the trains didn’t pay for themselves and had to be subsidized. Otter said he rode the Metro because it cost so much to keep a car in D.C. “One of the reasons I didn’t own a car was because it costs more to keep a car for one month in Washington, D.C. than it does to keep a horse for a month in Idaho,” the cowboy governor explained. “You can keep a horse in Idaho for $150 a month – it was $175 a month to park your car.”
Otter also noted that Idaho gets a good deal from the feds on highway funds – the state gets $1.38 in federal highway funds for every $1 it sends back in federal gas taxes. “When I was in Congress and I served on the transportation committee, they were complaining about that extra 38 cents, and I used to just tell ‘em, ‘Well, I just think you’re paying rent for that 35 million acres you got in Idaho,’” he said.
The wealthy Otter also told the ATI crowd that he still wants a grocery tax credit increase that benefits the needy (“Right now I get a certain amount of grocery tax credit on my state income tax, and quite frankly, I don’t need it, but I do believe that there are people out there that do need it”). That’s an idea lawmakers rejected last year. And he said he favors a freeze on assessed values of homes for property tax, allowing the values to rise only with inflation as long as the same owner occupies the house. That’s a move that likely would require amending the Idaho Constitution, which now requires like property to be taxed the same.
One more Otterism: He said cities and counties should be “architects of their own destiny” on transportation issues, just as the state of Idaho shouldn’t expect the federal government to solve its transportation woes. “As Jefferson said, should we look to Washington, D.C. as to when to sow and when to reap, we will soon want for bread,” Otter said. “This is one of the times when we’re wanting for bread.”