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Posts tagged: Butch Otter

Otter declines to fill out Idaho GOP platform survey, submits letter instead

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has declined to fill out a form certifying that he agrees with each and every tenet of the Idaho Republican Party platform, including repealing the 17th amendment – direct election of U.S. senators – and returning to the gold standard. Instead, Otter submitted a letter to the party saying, “I have chosen not to fill out the specific policy sections of the disclosure statement. A brief statement cannot fully encompass my positions on these issues.”

He included some statements of his overall philosophy, and wrote, “I believe that repealing the 17th Amendment is unnecessary if the 10th Amendment is fully and properly applied, but discussion and debate on that alternative is healthy for our republic. I oppose adopting the gold standard for our currency because of the critical leadership position the United States must take in the global market, but I support auditing the Federal Reserve in the interest of transparency and accountability.”

He added, “There are other policy statements in the platform with which I generally agree, but I do not believe those statements adequately serve the purpose of completely informing voters on key issues.” You can read Otter’s full letter here. Among the other gubernatorial candidates in the GOP primary, Russ Fulcher and Walt Bayes both filled out the party’s form and checked that they agree with every item in the platform, without comment; candidate Harley Brown hasn’t submitted a form.

Otter’s statement on personal property tax bill, HB 441a

Here’s Gov. Butch Otter’s statement on why he allowed HB 441a, the personal property tax bill, to become law without his signature:

“I am a strong supporter of eliminating the inherently unfair personal property tax, and I remain committed to working with stakeholders to eliminate this arbitrary assessment. But despite some positive, meaningful and necessary provisions in the original language of HB 441, amendments crafted late in the process have created potential ambiguity for some taxpayers who remain subject to the personal property tax.

I expect Idaho tax policy to reflect the values of predictability, simplicity and fairness. In implementing this law, and the inevitable future legislative efforts to address the tax and paperwork burden on Idaho businesses, I expect that we can and will do better.”

Otter issues first veto, line-item vetoes out gov’s pay increase for next year

Gov. Butch Otter has issued his first veto of this year’s legislative session – on the very last bill. He invoked his line-item veto power to nix an $1,800 appropriation for next year for a 1.5 percent raise for the governor. “While I appreciate the Legislature’s intentions in approving a pay increase for the governor, it is not my desire to accept this increase in the context of having not recommended a similar change in compensation for our valued state employees,” Otter wrote in his veto message.

Otter recommended zero raises for state employees next year; the Legislature instead approved merit raises to average 2 percent, with half of that permanent, and half as a one-time bonus. Separately, lawmakers passed legislation to grant raises to all top state elected officials, mostly 1.5 percent per year, for the next four years; the state Constitution prohibits giving those officials raises during their terms, so that issue can only be considered once every four years, prior to the election.

Otter’s veto message assumes his re-election – that he’ll be the one receiving the governor’s salary next year. The line-item veto was applied to SB 1430, the appropriation bill that followed SB 1395a, the raises bill. He allowed SB 1395a to become law without his signature. In his line-item veto message, he said he intends to donate $1,800 of the governor’s compensation in fiscal year 2015 to Bishop Kelly High School, and wrote, “I also encourage my fellow constitutional officers – who likewise did not seek pay increases – to make similar donations … to the educational institutions of their choice.”

Last year, Otter vetoed two bills; you can read my full story here at

Governor signs 18 bills into law, lets personal property tax bill become law without his signature

As a 4:40 p.m. deadline ticks near, Gov. Butch Otter has signed 18 bills today and allowed one to become law without his signature, and now has just two left on his desk from this year’s legislative session: SB 1395a, and SB 1430. Those are the bill to grant raises to top state elected officials for the next four years, and the appropriation bill tapping the funds for those raises in next year’s budget.

I’m awaiting a copy of the governor’s statement on why he allowed HB 441a, the personal property tax bill that was amended in the Senate, to become law without his signature. The bill was part of a session-ending compromise between the House and the Senate, in which both houses agreed to reject a rule the state Tax Commission adopted in November to draw the line between real and personal property for purposes of the new $100,000 per-taxpayer, per-county personal property exemption.

In place of the rule, which specified that a group of types of property like railroad tracks, pipelines and cell phone towers are real property – not personal property – and thus not eligible for the exemption, HB 441 as amended in the Senate rewrote the definitions in law, rather than rule. The outcome moves Idaho back to a more clear “three-factor” test to define the two categories, and has essentially the same result. HB 441 is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2014.

Among the 18 bills signed so far: SB 1410, which sets standards for wireless networks in Idaho high schools to receive state funding; SB 1396, setting up a 30-member committee to review student test questions and suggest which ones to revise or eliminate; HB 633, the budget for the state Department of Agriculture; HB 593, to set up a tax relief fund and deposit into it any sales taxes remitted to Idaho by remote retailers who aren’t now required to do so; and SB 1370aaa, the bill regarding legislative substitutes that was amended three times in the Senate, and in the end does little to change the current system beyond asking lawmakers to verify that their subs are eligible to serve.

Otter signs new jobs tax-reimbursement incentive bill into law

A plan to use big tax breaks to lure businesses to expand in Idaho won the governor's stamp of approval, the AP reports. Under the new law, HB 546a, which Gov. Butch Otter signed today, Idaho would refund up to 30 percent of state corporate income taxes, payroll taxes and sales taxes to businesses that create 50 new jobs in urban areas and 20 in rural areas. Proponents hope that will be enough to sweeten the deal for big employers mulling a move to the Gem State. The incentive will also apply to Idaho-based businesses that expand or take on a new project, if they create the required numbers of new jobs paying at least the county average wage; click below for a full report from AP reporter Katie Terhune.

Lanza booted from Otter’s ed task force after he joins Democratic challenger’s campaign

Mike Lanza, the parent-turned-education activist who chaired the campaign that successfully overturned the “Students Come First” school reform laws, says he’s been booted from Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s education improvement task force because he’s signed on with Otter’s Democratic opponent’s campaign. The 31-member task force brought all sides in the education reform debate together and made 20 recommendations, all of which Otter endorsed; the Legislature started work on some of those this year.

Lanza, who is now communications director and education adviser to Democrat A.J. Balukoff’s gubernatorial campaign, also still heads Idaho Parents and Teachers Together, the group that grew out of the successful referendum campaign in 2012. “There are politicians and candidates now serving on the task force, and no one questions whether they should be, and I don’t question whether they should be,” Lanza said. “They all have an appropriate role. No one has ever suggested that any of the dealings of the task force have been politicized.”

Marilyn Whitney, spokeswoman for the State Board of Education, which oversees the task force, said task force head Richard Westerberg, a board member, made the call, in consultation with board Chairman Don Soltman and board Executive Director Mike Rush, none of whom were immediately available for comment. “What I do know is that if IPAT wishes to have someone they can, but that it’s problematic and could be counter-productive for that person to be Mike, given that he now represents another entity,” Whitney said. “I think the board worked very hard to keep the previous task force process from being political and politicized.” The original 31-member task force is now reforming into two new committees; you can read my full story here at

Otter kicks off re-election campaign with four-stop tour of the state

Gov. Butch Otter is formally launching his re-election campaign today with a four-stop tour of the state. As campaign announcements go, it’s a bit anti-climactic; Otter filed for a third term on March 3, and first announced to supporters that he’d run for one at a North Idaho governor’s ball in December of 2011.

Otter’s tour today includes an 8 a.m. stop at Western States Equipment Company in Meridian; a 10:30 a.m. visit to Glanbia Foods in Twin Falls; a 12:30 visit to Snake River Landing in Idaho Falls; and a 4 p.m. stop at AGC AeroComposites in Hayden. Campaign manager Jayson Ronk said the locations were picked to emphasize economic development.

“It has been my honor to serve the people of Idaho as governor,” Otter said in a news release. “We have accomplished great things over the past seven years, but my work is not yet complete. We need to continue to make sure we are preparing Idaho’s workforce for a more competitive future, and that there are career opportunities available here so our citizens and communities can prosper.”

Otter also released a list of 18 GOP senators and 35 GOP House members who are backing his re-election bid. He faces a primary challenge from Senate Majority Caucus Chairman Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian. The victor from the GOP primary faces Democrat A.J. Balukoff in November. Also on the ballot are an array of other candidates: Two independents, Jill Humble of Boise and “Pro-Life”; Libertarian John Bujak; Constitution Party candidate Steve Pankey; perennial candidates Walt Bayes and Harley Brown in the GOP primary; and former local GOP candidate Terry Kerr of Idaho Falls in the Democratic primary.

As of January, Otter had raised $708,000 for his re-election campaign, dwarfing the campaign warchests of all the other candidates.

Fulcher criticized Otter’s tour, saying, “The Otter administration will be remembered as eight years of missed opportunities.  An announcement tour to a select group of businesses that are friendly to him cannot hide his lack of leadership on the issues that are most important to Idaho. Everything is not 'awesome' as Otter would like us to believe.  Idaho can do better.”

Just 30 bills left on governor’s desk; session yielded same number as last year

There are still about 30 bills left that lawmakers passed this year but Gov. Butch Otter has not yet taken action on; he has until Friday. Among them: SB 1395, the bill to raise top state elected officials’ salaries each year for the next four years. So far, Otter hasn’t vetoed a single one of the 357 bills that passed both houses this year; the legislature also adopted 43 resolutions or memorials. Otter has been gone to a Republican Governors Association meeting; he’ll be returning later today.

The final figures have just come out, and this year’s legislative session, in the end, yielded exactly the same number of passed bills as last year’s – both 357 – and a similar number introduced, at 542 this year and 545 last year. Last year's session was longer, at 88 days, while this year's ended after 74.

Catching up on some news…

Lots of news has happened over the past week while I’ve been off work. Here’s some catch-up:

Gov. Butch Otter signed 112 bills into law on Wednesday (the list he published looked much longer, but nearly every bill was listed twice); and 48 on Friday – and still hadn’t vetoed a single one of the more than 400 bills passed this year. Among those signed on Wednesday: HB 462, the ski area liability bill; three pieces of the public school budget, which overall shows a 5.1 percent increase in state funding; SB 1314, the controversial payday loan bill; SB 1354a, on bad-faith patent infringements; SB 1372, the school student data security bill; SB 1374a, allowing the state Board of Corrections to contract out inmates for farm labor; and HB 470a, the $400,000 wolf control bill, which had an emergency clause and took effect immediately upon signing. You can read a full report here on that bill from AP reporter Nick Geranios.

Among those signed on Friday: HB 518a, modifying last year’s bill to regulate scrap metal businesses in an effort to crack down on metal theft; the remaining pieces of the public school budget; SB 1394, raising Idaho judges’ salaries; SB 1417, the higher ed budget, which reflects a 6.2 percent increase in state general funds; SB 1421, the state prisons budget, which reflects an 11 percent increase; and numerous other agency budget bills.

Reporter Clark Corbin of Idaho Education News analyzed the legislative session’s progress on the 20 recommendations of the governor’s education improvement task force; you can read his report here. And Idaho EdNews reporter Kevin Richert queried the five candidates for state superintendent of schools on how they grade the 2014 legislative session, and if elected, what their priorities would be for next year; his full report is online here.

 The Idaho Department of Labor reported that Idaho personal income jumped 3.7 percent in 2013, a full percentage point more than the nation and third-highest among the states in percentage increase; you can read more here. The department also reported Idaho’s population shift from rural to urban counties slowed in 2013 as the 33 rural counties saw their combined population increase for the first time in three years; there’s more on that here. And Boise State Public Radio reported that a new study shows an Idaho worker earning minimum wage would need to work 73 hours a week in order to afford to rent a modest two-bedroom apartment; see their report here.

The University of Idaho named Mark Adams, former vice dean at Valparaiso University Law School, as the new dean of its College of Law. The Oregonian reported that state Sen. Curt McKenzie’s ex-wife, Renee, has sued the state of Oregon for blocking her plans to marry a convicted murderer serving two life sentences in an Oregon prison. Meanwhile, Idaho Reports on Idaho Public TV took a look Friday at how lawmakers’ attention is turning to primary elections, talked with lobbyists about the 2014 legislative session, and more; you can watch here.

Otter signs guns-on-campus bill

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter today signed SB 1254, the bill to allow guns on Idaho public college and university campuses - over the objections of the colleges - into law. “As elected officials, we have a sworn responsibility to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States - not only when doing so is easy, convenient or without cost, but especially when it is not,” Otter wrote in his signing statement. “This legislation challenges us to fulfill that charge, and we will.” You can read my full story here at

Otter was pushed to veto the bill in recent days by the mothers of shooting victims in college mass shootings across the nation, and by Idaho student leaders. He said he concluded that Second Amendment rights have some exceptions, but wrote, “This is not the circumstance to carve out another.” Otter concluded, “We all will be watching closely to ensure the interests of Idaho citizens are served while their constitutional freedoms are protected.”

Film featuring Otter had explicit scenes added, apparently years after his acting gig…

The Idaho Falls Post Register has a report today about how Gov. Butch Otter ended up appearing in what eventually turned out to be a soft-core porn movie, years after he agreed to provide horses to a California movie crew working on a “low-budget horse opera” that was filming near Weiser. Reporters Nate Sunderland and Jeff Robinson report that the movie, which began filming in 1993, was released straight to video as an R-rated film in 1997 and rereleased as unrated in 2003; DVDs of the film remain for sale on Amazon.

Staffers for Otter said the final version, which they hadn't seen, apparently is nothing like the film Otter signed on for; then the state’s lieutenant governor, he acted the part of a sheriff in a few scenes in the film, none of which contained any explicit content or themes. The other content apparently was added years later.

After meeting with Wasden, Otter orders criminal investigation of CCA for understaffing Idaho prison

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter has ordered the state police to conduct a criminal investigation of understaffing and falsified documents at a private prison operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). The governor made the decision Tuesday after meeting with Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. Otter wrote in a letter to Idaho State Police Col. Ralph Powell that after reviewing the available information, including an audit completed by the forensic auditing firm KPMG, he now believed the public would benefit from a formal criminal investigation. Otter had previously supported Powell's decision not to investigate the company. CCA has operated Idaho's largest prison for more than a decade. The company acknowledged last year that CCA employees falsified documents to hide understaffing at the prison in violation of a $29 million state contract.

Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Otter urges lawmakers to ‘prevent disruption of services to Idaho schools’ with more IEN funding

Gov. Butch Otter has sent out a press release urging lawmakers to allocate $14.45 million to keep the Idaho Education Network functioning in the face of withheld federal funds. “The Governor’s request to the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee would maintain funding for the IEN and prevent disruption of services to Idaho schools and districts on the network,” Otter's release says. “Despite an inquiry for clarification, the IEN has received no word from the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) – the entity that oversees federal E-rate funding – about when reimbursement can be expected.” Click below for Otter's full release.

Otter collects big donations from casino moguls who back online gaming

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s latest campaign finance report shows that three billionaire Nevada casino operators who have been leaders in a push for online gaming in Nevada and New Jersey gave $60,000 to Otter’s re-election campaign, Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey reports; his full Sunday story is online here. Popkey reports that the contributions came after New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie joined Otter for a campaign fundraiser at the Sun Valley home of one of the casino moguls, Steve Wynn, on Dec. 6; after that lunch fundraiser, Otter and Christie flew to Coeur d’Alene for a larger rally and fundraiser.

Popkey reports that after Christie spoke at the Sun Valley event, Otter said he “had the opportunity to make my pitch,” talking about his policies on state spending, the economy and unemployment. “And the first thing out of some of their mouths was ‘What’s your donation law?’ ” Otter told the Statesman. “I said, ‘$5,000 max, it can come from an individual or a corporation.’ ”

Wynn petitioned New Jersey regulators on Jan. 10 for a license to operate online gaming in New Jersey, Popkey reports. Brothers Frank and Lorenzo Fertittas’ Station Casinos began offering legal online gaming at in April, when Nevada became the first state to sanction the business; the site has since expanded to New Jersey as well.

Otter reports more than $700K in bank for run against Fulcher

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter said he has more than $700,000 in cash to wage a campaign against his Republican primary challenger, state Sen. Russ Fulcher. Otter filed his latest campaign report Tuesday, outlining his 2013 fundraising when he brought in $901,000, largely from business groups. Fulcher hasn't filed his report. Meanwhile, Otter hasn't formally announced he's running for a third term. Among Otter's biggest supporters were trucking lobbyists, cigarette-maker Altria, retailer Wal-Mart and wealthy Emmett rancher Harry Bettis, who gave $7,500. The J.R. Simplot Co., owned by family of Otter's ex-wife, Gay, gave $10,000. Direct-marketing company Melaleuca and its owner, GOP booster Frank VanderSloot, also gave $10,000. Among Otter's biggest expenditures was more than $16,000 to Arena Communications, a Utah company that helps do mailing and other services for Republican politicians.

Otter endorses justice reinvestment plan, calls it a ‘no-brainer’

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter today applauded the proposals of the state's justice reinvestment project, calling the plan a “no-brainer.” “While our crime rate is among the lowest in the nation, our recidivism rate is increasing,” Otter said. “This framework outlines a variety of sensible changes we can make as a state that will greatly impact both public safety and the amount of taxpayer dollars that go towards corrections. This is simply a no-brainer for me, and I hope the Legislature sees a similar value and acts accordingly.”

The recommendations, already endorsed unanimously by an interim legislative committee, include an array of improvements to treatment, supervision, parole and probation procedures, restitution and data systems over the next five years, along with limiting stays behind bars for non-violent offenders to 100 to 150 percent of their fixed terms; they’re now serving more than 200 percent of their fixed terms on average, and staying behind bars twice as long in Idaho as they do in the rest of the country. Under the plan, they’d get out earlier, but be supervised on parole. The plan estimates that an investment of $33 million in reforms over the next five years will save the state more than $255 million on prison costs.

Click below for Otter’s full statement.

Otter names working group to study improvements to Tax Commission operations

Gov. Butch Otter has named an eight-member working group headed by former House Tax Chairman Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, to study ways to improve operations at the Idaho State Tax Commission, including how the commission's rule-making process could be improved and whether restructuring is in order. Tax Commission Chairman Rich Jackson will be among the group. “I have a lot of confidence in our four Tax Commission members, but there’s always room for improvement, especially where public confidence is involved,” Otter said; click below for his full announcement. The commission came in for criticism from state senators last year for being difficult to work with, though no specifics were cited; several years ago, a whistle-blower's report raised questions about how the commission handled secret settlements with big taxpayers.

Fulcher decries Otter’s proposed $2M wolf control fund as unneeded ‘bureaucracy’

Sen. Russ Fulcher is ripping Gov. Butch Otter’s proposal for a new $2 million wolf control fund. “I don’t know what we need to spend $2 million for,” Fulcher said on the Nate Shelman radio show on KBOI radio this afternoon. Fulcher, who is challenging Otter in the GOP primary, said Otter’s plan would “create another bureaucracy in order to manage this.”

Otter announced the new fund in his State of the State message this week, telling a joint session of the Legislature, “One form of growth we don’t want to encourage is in the wolf population that was imposed on Idaho almost 20 years ago. With your unflinching support, we were able to fight through the opposition of those who would make Idaho into a restricted-use wildlife refuge and take back control of these predators from our federal landlords.”

He said, “We’re hunting them now, and they’re a trophy hunting species. But the population is still growing, and our resources remain at risk.” Otter’s proposed state budget for next year calls for spending $2 million in state general funds, on a one-time basis, to start up the new fund, and then adding contributions each year of $110,000 apiece from hunting licenses and the livestock industry to sustain the fund. “This three-pronged approach will provide the revenue needed to more effectively control Idaho’s burgeoning wolf population and ease the impact on our livestock and wildlife,” Otter said to applause.

Wolf control is a touchy subject; Idaho currently is being sued over its move to hire a professional hunter to exterminate two wolf packs in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, and federal wildlife agencies have lost a chunk of their funding for such efforts to federal budget cuts in recent years.

Fulcher said wolves are “not a trophy species,” they’re a “predator.” He said, “Why wouldn’t we just increase the number of (wolf hunting) tags and let one predator take care of another? … This is an emotional issue in this state. I don’t know why we need another bureaucracy.”

Otter names attorney Ilana Rubel to Ward-Engelking’s former House seat

Gov. Butch Otter has appointed Boise attorney Ilana Rubel to the Idaho House, to fill the District 18 vacancy created when he appointed then-Rep. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, to the Idaho Senate; Ward-Engelking replaced former Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise, who left the state. Rubel, 41, is a litigation partner at the law firm Fenwick & West in Boise. She was one of three nominees presented to Otter by the district’s Democratic Party legislative committee. Click below for Otter’s full announcement.

Balukoff issues polite but pointed response to Otter’s State of State message

A.J. Balukoff, Democratic candidate for governor and chairman of the Boise School Board, has issued a response to GOP Gov. Butch Otter’s State of the State message, focusing on education needs, health care and the economy. “While Gov. Otter’s State of the State Address offers a lot of rhetoric about where Idaho needs to go, what he has actually shown us is the limit of his ability to take us there,” Balukoff says. “To give our kids, our economy and our state the future they deserve we need new leadership and to restore funding and make education a top priority.”

He closes his statement with this comment: “Governor Otter is a good person and a likable man, but it is clear that it is time for a new governor to lead our state.” The full statement is online here.

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About this blog

Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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