Gov. Butch Otter answered some questions from reporters today after his bill-signing ceremony for the eastern Idaho community college start-up bill. Among them: Is he happy with the 7.4 percent increase in funding that lawmakers have approved for public schools for next year? “No,” Otter said.
“I would have liked to have seen more,” the governor said. He said if all the different “K-through-career” initiatives he proposed this year were tallied up, they’d come to “around $28 million bucks,” which he noted was “interestingly enough,” not much different from $28 million in income tax cuts that state lawmakers are contemplating.
“They shorted me a million-seven on reading proficiency,” Otter said; he had recommended $10.7 million next year for an early literacy initiative in grades K-3, but lawmakers approved $9 million. “Which tells me … that’s probably the greatest evidence that we need reading proficiency, when they couldn’t read my State of the State speech, (that) let me tell ‘em what I needed. They would have done well to have spent that $1.7 million as well.”
Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, who was at the back of the room at that point, commented, “Now, now,” and amid laughter, Otter declared, “But I’m not angry about it.”
Other topics he addressed:
HOMEOWNERS EXEMPTION: Asked why he signed HB 431, the bill to cap the homeowner’s exemption from property taxes permanently at $100,000, removing an index that allowed it to go up with rising home values, Otter said, “I’m satisfied in speaking with the germane committees of both the House and Sen, that if it needs to go up, if it needs to go back to that,” they could change it in the future. “So I signed it knowing full well that I felt that the $100,000, No. 1, was equitable, and No. 2, that we can always change it,” he said.
TUITION LOCK: Otter said he would have liked to see lawmakers address more of his higher-education proposals, including the proposed “tuition lock” plan, a $10 million item designed to lock in tuition rates at freshman-year rates for each student if they finish a public university within four years. “The tuition lock was unique, and maybe that’ll take a year or two,” he said. “We certainly have to do something.”
BIBLE IN SCHOOLS: The governor wouldn’t say if he’ll sign SB 1342a, the Bible-in-schools bill, into law or not. He noted that an Idaho attorney general’s opinion that found the bill was “specifically prohibited” by the Idaho Constitution was issued before the Senate amended some of the wording in the bill, and said he’ll seek more information.