Gov. Butch Otter said today that education, and the continuation of a five-year plan to improve it in Idaho, will be his top priority in the upcoming 2017 legislative session. “I’m not taking my focus off of education,” Otter told an audience of more than 500 legislators, lobbyists, state and local government officials, business people and others at the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho annual conference. He touted “the gains that we’ve made the last few years with the task force plan.”
“We did commit the necessary resources, and we committed ourselves,” Otter said. “We are now going into the third year, and this is going to be the toughest year.” That’s because for the teacher career ladder, the priciest piece of the plan, this will be the most expensive year, with a $58 million price tag, Otter said. “That was part of the plan, so you knew that three years ago,” he said.
“I’m really proud of the fact that we were able to come together and fashion a $350 million dollar, five-year plan, and now we’re in the third year of that and it’s working,” Otter said. “It’s working because we’ve got 3.8 percent unemployment.”
But even with that low unemployment level, he said, more than 22,000 Idahoans remain out of work, and in many cases, jobs are going unfilled because employers can’t find qualified workers for them. That’s why Idaho needs to continue to focus on education, he said, including community colleges and workforce training – and a new community college that’s being proposed in eastern Idaho.
Otter said Idaho’s in great financial shape, with $100 million-plus more revenue than was anticipated when lawmakers adjourned last spring. “We’re all looking with great anticipation to Jan. 20 and the new administration coming in, and probably a new and fashionable exercise in multiple- use on the lands in the West – not destructive use, but multiple use,” he said.
Otter told the group he has no tax-relief proposal in the works for the upcoming session, but he’s willing to listen to ideas that lawmakers propose. “But we don’t believe, never have, that using tax policy to starve government is the right policy to have,” the governor said. “Tax policy should be ... based on what is needed.”
“We’re going to make the efficient and the smart investments,” Otter said, “but that doesn’t mean that we can’t also have tax relief. Have I got a plan for it? No. But I would tell you as soon as legislators see the revenue stream … there will be plenty of ideas, and whether it’s personal property tax or income tax or any other area, I’m willing to look at all of ‘em.”