Gov. Butch Otter and Democratic challenger Keith Allred sharply disagreed over recent cuts to dental programs for the poor; independent candidate Jana Kemp said Otter's "Project 60" isn't working and backed privatizing state liquor sales; Otter said tax exemptions were put in place for good reason; and Allred promised no cuts in school funding next year if he's elected. That was on tonight's debate in Caldwell, sponsored by KTVB, KIFI and KREM TV stations. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller; here's a link to video of the debate. On Oct. 28, all five candidates for governor will face off on Idaho Public Television.
Dental cuts a flashpoint at gubernatorial debate
By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press Writer
CALDWELL, Idaho (AP) — Cuts to dental programs for the poor became an surprise flashpoint of Wednesday evening's debate between Republican Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter and Democrat Keith Allred, as they went tooth to tooth over austerity measures for dentists aimed at saving Idaho money.
About 150 dentists have been cut from a program that provides dental services to Idaho Medicaid recipients.
Otter said dentists who were cut were providing too many services and costing the state too much money. He said he thinks the state did its best at trimming those ranks.
"We did give them a month's notice, because that's when the Medicaid cuts came," Otter said. "We have made sure that in a metropolitan area, there's a dentist within 30 miles of those previous patients, and seven miles in a rural area. We've made sure there will be dentists available."
Allred told the crowd at Caldwell's College of Idaho that Otter blindsided dentists by not communicating, insisting the governor "flat didn't talk to dentists." Allred said this characterized the governor's approach: Consulting only a narrow group, without seeking broad support, for deep-reaching policy decisions.
"I've talked to people around the state and they're deeply frustrated by this," Allred said. "The dentists are happy to adjust, they'd just like to be talked to, Gov. Otter."
Wednesday's debate, sponsored by KTVB-TV, was the third ahead of the Nov. 2 election.
This time, Otter and Allred were joined by independent candidate Jana Kemp, a former GOP state legislator who is running without a party label.
Kemp has raised just $42,000 in campaign contributions for her race, while Otter pulled in $750,000 and Allred raised $372,000 in the last quarter alone. Kemp said that highlighted the reason why voters should choose her: She's not taking money from special interests or political action committees, so she answers only to voters.
"We are independent thinkers, we are independent innovators and we are achievers, and I believe, Idahoans are independent voters," she said.
Otter, a businessman, has been in Idaho's political spotlight for 30 years.
Allred is a former Harvard University professor who previously ran a nonpartisan government reform group.
On Wednesday evening, they again sparred over $1.75 billion worth of tax breaks that some industries or groups have won since the Idaho sales tax was passed 45 years ago.
If Allred gets his way, the state would scrutinize virtually all of them, then repeal the ones voters agreed were no longer necessary.
Otter insists they were all passed with sound economic judgment by legislators and that repealing them is tantamount to a tax hike for those that now benefit. Recent campaign ads run by the Idaho Republican Party have accused Allred of wanting to raise taxes, including on church bake sales.
Allred blasted the claims as bogus, saying that for every dollar in tax breaks he eliminates, Idaho's 7.8 percent income tax rate would be reduced by a commensurate amount.
"We need to get an income tax rate that's competitive," Allred said.
Otter again accused his rival of favoring rosy budget projections that would have left Idaho with a budget deficit in fiscal year 2010 and 2011, had Allred been in charge and gotten his way. The governor also discounted Allred's promise not to cut education again in fiscal year 2012, starting next July, after this year's 7.5 percent, $128 million cut.
"Education is the fundamental priority," Allred said.
It's not just up to the governor, Otter countered.
"For anyone who is running for governor to stand up here and guarantee you that there will not be a cut and guarantee you where they will get the money just hasn't taken a poll of the Legislature," Otter said. "Those legislators are going to help you make that decision."
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.