Legislative Democrats are faulting Gov. Butch Otter’s priorities, saying he shouldn’t be cutting education and other essential state services while leaving hundreds of millions in state rainy-day funds. “Our tax dollars created these rainy-day funds; they’re there for a purpose,” said House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston. “We’re well beyond raining - in fact we need a new ark.”
Democrats, the minority party in both the House and Senate, held a press conference this morning to respond to Otter’s State of the State and budget message. They praised some of Otter’s proposals, including his zero-based budgeting initiative, his plan to revamp the role of the state Board of Education to limit it to policy-setting, and his push for more efficiency at the Idaho Transportation Department. “In his remarks, Gov. Otter offered a glimpse into the same sort of post-partisan future we are seeing take shape in Washington, D.C., and the wisdom of meeting in the middle whenever we can,” said Senate Assistant Minority Leader Kate Kelly. “But we also saw many misplaced priorities, and missed opportunities, in what the governor had to say yesterday, and in the policies we’ve seen take hold so far during this budget crisis.” She asked, “Is it smart to ask Idahoans to pay more for road maintenance while cutting school resources, the best engine we have for our future economic security?”
Otter has called for spending just 35 percent of the state’s $390 million in rainy-day funds to get through both the current year and fiscal year 2010, which starts July 1. Though he proposed offsetting cuts to public schools in the current year from the rainy-day funds, he wouldn’t dip into them for schools in the new year. Instead, he’s calling for an unprecedented 5.3 percent cut in funding for public schools next year. “All we’re suggesting is that the cuts be less significant, they should not go to the bone,” said House Assistant Minority Leader James Ruchti, D-Pocatello.