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Eye On Boise

Posts tagged: gov. butch otter

Giant potato hits the road to promote Idaho spuds

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Call it Tuber Tour 2012. The Idaho Potato Commission is commemorating its 75th anniversary and hoping to dispel some bad press for potatoes by taking a lifelike, six-ton spud on a seven-month, 32-state tour. The Big Idaho Potato departed the state Capitol Friday morning with a ribbon-cutting ceremony by Gov. Butch Otter. The building-sized potato that was first seen at the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl will be making stops that include Chicago, New York, Washington, Denver and Los Angeles. The Idaho Statesman reports ( that one stop will be outside the U.S. Department of Agriculture, where officials last year questioned whether potatoes should be included in school lunches and banned it from the food stamp program; read more at the Capital Press here. The public can trace the route on the Big Idaho Potato's website,

Popkey: Analysis of Otter’s schedule shows governor ‘dialing back’

The Idaho Statesman's Dan Popkey analyzed Gov. Butch Otter's schedule for the past three years, and found that since his landslide re-election, the governor is spending significantly less time in the office - with 27 percent fewer appointments, 33 percent less official travel, and a 28 percent increase in vacation or personal days, to 41 days in 2010. Popkey suggested Otter is “dialing back,” noting that he typically now doesn't show up at the office Mondays, instead working from home. The governor had no comment, despite repeated requests from the newspaper; his spokesman, Jon Hanian, wouldn't comment on Otter’s workload but did not dispute the findings. You can read Popkey's full report here.

State budget: ‘Some pretty harsh things have been done’

Here's a link to my full story at, on how the final numbers, out today, show that after anguishing over deep budget cuts, Idaho ended the fiscal year well ahead of projections for state tax revenues, with an $85.3 million year-end surplus. That means public schools will get an additional $59.9 million, and Gov. Butch Otter has decided to reverse this year's decision to put off a scheduled $10 bump-up in Idaho's grocery tax credit next year, at a cost of $15 million. It also suggests some of this year's painful budget-cut decisions might not have been necessary, though most won't be reversed.

Otter said he lost his $100 bet with former Gov. Cecil Andrus that state revenues would be closer to retired chief state economist Mike Ferguson's forecast than to Otter's and the Legislature's; the governor said he's glad to pay up. Otter spokeswoman Emily Anderson said he'll likely pay Andrus “sometime this week – since it was a real bet, he'll pay up. The governor is happy to be able to lose this  bet.” Andrus, who's in Canada on business today, issued this statement: “I'm happy I won the bet on two counts - it's good news for kids in Idaho schools and I'm always happy to take a hundred bucks off Butch. I only wish the entire 85 million dollars was going to education. I look forward to collecting - soon.”

The improved revenue news comes after Otter and lawmakers made deep cuts to the state budget this year, including to schools and Medicaid services for the poor and disabled. Ferguson said, “In that sense I don't feel vindicated, because some pretty harsh things have been done, and it doesn't look too likely that they'll be undone.”

Year-end surplus highlights Otter’s choices: Grocery credit vs. Medicaid

Click below to read AP reporter John Miller's full report on today's state revenue news, which focuses on Gov. Butch Otter's decision to spend $15 million of the 2011 year-end surplus to reverse this year's decision to put off a scheduled $10 bump-up in the grocery tax credit, instead of calling a special session of the Legislature to restore some of the cuts made to Medicaid in next year's budget. Because every dollar cut from Medicaid means losing twice as much in federal matching funds, reversing some of this year's cuts could have restored tens of millions to the health care program for the poor and disabled.

Idaho’s June tax revenues over forecast by a whopping $19.1 million

Idaho's state tax revenues for June exceeded projections by a whopping $19.1 million, with every category of tax finishing the year ahead of schedule. Highest, according to Wayne Hammon, Gov. Butch Otter's budget chief, was the volatile and hard-to-predict corporate tax, which came in almost $46 million ahead of forecasts for the fiscal year that ended July 1. “That shows companies doing business in Idaho are doing more business than they were a year ago – that's very good news for all of us,” Hammon said. And individual income tax moved back into the positive category again in June. “To see the individual income tax strong again I think is a good, strong indicator for the economy,” he said.

The resulting $85.3 million surplus for the year, compared to the January projections, means Gov. Butch Otter won't sign an executive order to hold off on a scheduled increase in the grocery tax credit next year – a delay that would have saved the state $15 million in next year's budget – even though lawmakers passed a concurrent resolution authorizing him to do so. Otter had asked lawmakers to pass the resolution, and made it part of his budget proposal. Hammon said, “We recommended it because we thoguht it was necessary, but now that we don't need it, we can back off.” The year-end surplus is large enough that even after the required multimillion-dollar payments to schools and community colleges to meet maintenance-of-effort requirements attached to hundreds of millions in federal stimulus funds the state accepted in recent years are subtracted, there's more than enough left to roll over the $15 million into next year's budget to cover the grocery tax hike.

That means that next April, when Idahoans file their 2011 income tax returns, the credit they can take to offset sales taxes paid on groceries will rise $10 from the current $50, to $60 for most taxpayers, and from $70 to $80 for the low-income; seniors also receive an additional $20 credit.

When a surplus isn’t a surplus…

Gov. Butch Otter's budget director, Wayne Hammon, has a presentation about the state's fiscal picture that he's now sent to every state lawmaker and state agency director, and it may seem counterintuitive: Though Idaho's state tax revenues are now running $66.1 million ahead of forecast for the fiscal year, Hammon says, “The bottom line is that although the state has more revenue than it anticipated, most of that money has already been spent.” A majority of whatever year-end surplus materializes must go to maintenance-of-effort requirements for education and related programs that were attached to federal stimulus funds Idaho already accepted. By his estimates, the real state surplus at this point is just $6.6 million. Then, he points to pressing needs ahead, drained reserves and falling federal funding.

“Despite this year's revenue coming in ahead of the forecast, there is no budget surplus,” Hammon writes in the presentation; you can see the full document here. “All of us in state government need to prepare now for an additional round of budget cuts – this time in federal funds that will not be replaced with state resources. Our first priorities for any new revenue must be education and restoring our rainy day accounts.”

Mullan ‘Capital for a Day’ reset for May 25

Gov. Butch Otter's “Capital for a Day” event in Mullan, postponed last month after an accident at the Lucky Friday Mine that prompted an urgent but ultimately unsuccessful rescue effort and left a miner dead, has been rescheduled for May 25. “The people of Mullan and Shoshone County have been through a traumatic time. They live with the dangers and uncertainties of mining every day, and I’m interested in hearing how they see the road ahead,” Otter said. “Silver Valley residents are tough and resilient. We all could learn a lot from listening to their concerns and reflecting on the sense of community that binds them together.” Click below for his full announcement.

Guv declares May ‘Lupus Awareness Month’

May will be “Lupus Awareness Month” in Idaho, under a proclamation signed this morning by Gov. Butch Otter, to draw attention to what Otter called “an important public health issue.” Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, said her 12-year-old granddaughter died of the disease in 2005, just six months after being diagnosed. “It is devastating to those who have it. It is devastating to their families,” Broadsword said. “I hope all Idahoans realize how this can impact lives, and forming groups in their area can support those who have the disease.”

As he signed the proclamation, Otter acknowledged Idaho support groups for sufferers of the deadly disease, including the Treasure Valley Lupus Now group, which can be reached at 250-8699. As part of today's events, the Lupus Foundation placed purple flamingos near the capitol to draw attention to the disease and increase public awareness as part of its “Wings for Lupus” fundraising campaign.

Broadsword said her granddaughter would have graduated from high school next month, had she lived. “The disease attacks the organs of those who have it,” she said. “Often you can't tell from the outside there is anything wrong.” There's more information about the disease here.

Governor’s statement to Congress about floating green way off on numbers

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter testified to Congress this week that more people play the floating green hole at the Coeur d'Alene Resort golf course in a day than visit the state's largest wilderness area in a year, while arguing against more wilderness, but Idaho Statesman reporter Rocky Barker reports today that the governor's statement was way off. “There are more people in one day, probably, that play golf on the floating green in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, than visit the Frank Church-River of No Return (Wilderness) in a year,” Otter told U.S. House Natural Resources Committee. “And that’s just a par 3.”

Barker checked the numbers, and found that the golf course can handle up to 280 golfers a day; the 2.3 million-acre Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness attracted more than 33,000 visitors in 2010, just counting river floaters, hunters and anglers  alone. You can read Barker's full report here.

Otter in inaugural address: Emergency cuts should become ‘standard operating’

In his second inaugural address, Gov. Butch Otter had this message: The steps Idaho has taken to cope with an unprecedented economic downturn are going to become the new normal and “standard operating practices” for his administration. “Over the next four years you can expect my administration to keep building partnerships for addressing some of our most pressing challenges, to keep clearing the way for entrepreneurs to create more career opportunities and to keep protecting our Idaho way of life,” the governor said. “You will see that what started as emergency measures taken in response to the great rec'ession's impact on Idaho become standard operating practices of our state government, permament changes in how we have done business, aimed at leaving a smaller, better defined and more constructive imprint on our people's lives.”

Otter plans same approach in 2nd term

In the second four-year term that he's now beginning, Gov. Butch Otter says he plans no changes in his approach to the job. “The changes that we've made now have to be institutionalized, they have to become the standard operating procedure,” he said. “That's going to continue to improve only with a change in the culture of government, that the government can't be all things to all people.” He said, “We haven't successfully changed the culture in government.”

Otter: No comment on Chigbrow

In his remarks to reporters today at the AP's legislative preview, Gov. Butch Otter answered “no comment” when asked if he's asked his current state Tax Commission chairman, Royce Chigbrow, to resign. Otter also said, in response to a reporter's question, that the state is reviewing its contract with Corrections Corp. of America over the troubled prison operation at the Idaho Correctional Center south of Boise, but gave no details. “We are reviewing it to see where we can improve it, but I'm not prepared to tell you … that we have some changes that we're going to make and what those changes are.”

Asked about expected budget shortfalls, Otter said, “I think there are some things we're going to be offering up that I've already spoken to the legislative leadership about, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee about, some changes that we can make that … could lessen that shortfall having made those changes,” he said. “But I've also heard the shortfall is as little as $120 million and as much as $500 million. So I guess that's still anybody's guess.”

Otter suggests more cost-cutting ahead, but doesn’t flatly rule out tax increase

Gov. Butch Otter, speaking to reporters at the Associated Press Legislative Preview today, suggested he'll take a tight-fisted approach to the coming year's state budget when he unveils his plans to lawmakers on Monday. “What Idaho has done over the last couple of years has really become very fashionable, and that is cutting budgets,” Otter declared. “I think we can expect that to continue.”

However, he did not flatly rule out some form of tax increase to cope with anticipated shortfalls next year. “The Legislature, of course, in the Rev and Tax committees are free to look at anything that they want to look at, but it's going to have to be based upon some pretty strong merit,” Otter said.

‘I, C.L. Butch Otter, solemnly swear…’

In a brief ceremony before a small audience of family, close friends and some staffers, Gov. Butch Otter took the oath of office today for his second term. The oath was administered by U.S. District Judge Ed Lodge, left; at right is First Lady Lori Otter. Among the onlookers was Otter's mother, Regina Otter. “I appreciate all of my family being here, my extended family and some of my staff,” Otter said after taking the oath. “Thank you very much. This is a great day for me and Miss Lori, and for our family and the state of Idaho. So thank you all so much for coming.”

Incidentally, in the formal oath, Otter used both his initials, which stand for Clement Leroy, and the nickname by which he's known, so it sounded like this: “I, C.L. Butch Otter, solemnly swear…” Today's ceremony will be followed up by the formal inauguration ceremony and inaugural address on the steps of the state Capitol on Friday at noon; the public is invited. There's also the formal public Inaugural Ball on Saturday at 8 p.m., for which tickets are on sale at $20 apiece.

Those are the nonpartisan inaugural events. In addition, Otter's campaign will be hosting additional events; a committee chaired by three prominent lobbyists is drumming up sponsorships for those. On Friday at 10 a.m., an inaugural mass and prayer service will be held at St. John's Cathedral, 775 N. 8th St.; the public is welcome and there is no charge. On Friday night, the governor and first lady will host a gala concert at the Knitting Factory with country singer Jo Dee Messina; tickets are $35. On Saturday, they'll host a formal dinner at the Stueckle Sky Center at BSU from 4-7 p.m. with tickets costing $500 per person and also including admittance to the Inaugural Ball and the “Black Tie and Boots Ball,” which will be later that same evening at BSU's Jordan Ballroom and feature music from the Kelly Hughes Band. Tickets for the “Black Tie and Boots Ball” alone are $30 a head. There's more info at the governor's campaign website,

Otter to be sworn in for 2nd term today

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter will be sworn in for a second term today at noon. Though it'll be a private ceremony, in advance of the public inauguration ceremony on Friday, the public can watch, as it'll be streamed live on Idaho Public Television's “Legislature Live.” This comes after Otter took some heat four years ago for holding his private swearing-in at a family breakfast at the former Simplot mansion, now called the Idaho House. “That's the way the governor wanted to do it at that time,” said his spokesman, Jon Hanian. This time, he's opted to let the public watch online and allow the media to photograph the ceremony.

Here's why there's both a private and a public swearing-in ceremony: The Idaho Constitution says that all constitutional officers, including the governor, take office on the first Monday in January following their election. But the public inaugural, at which all the officers will be formally sworn in and the governor will give his inaugural address, isn't until Friday. Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said, “I'm filing an oath in front of a notary.” All the officers' oaths of office will be kept on file at the Secretary of State's office. “We'll be getting those today,” Ysursa said, to meet the constitutional deadline.

Mark Snider, who served as press secretary for two-term Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, said Kempthorne had small private swearing-in ceremonies in his office as well. “It was just his family, it was very private, there were no invited guests,” Snider recalled. “There was no hoo-ha about it.”

Otter today is scheduled to be given the oath of office by U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge.

Otter won’t propose any road funding improvements in coming year

Gov. Butch Otter, in response to yesterday’s action by his transportation funding task force, says he won’t propose any transportation funding increases in 2011. Otter, in a news release, said the task force called for “delaying revenue enhancements for now.”

In its all-day meeting yesterday, the task force debated proposed wording in an initial draft of its resolution calling for making $543 million in improvements to Idaho’s roads and bridges “when the Governor and the Legislature have determined that the economy of Idaho has improved to the extent that economic conditions allow an increase in transportation funding,” with several members calling for removing that economic-trigger language, saying it wasn’t their business to dictate timing to the governor and Legislature. Task force member Gordon Cruickshank said, “I guess I look at that as what happens if the economy doesn’t improve? We’re basically saying if it doesn’t improve, we’re not going to do anything.”

After much discussion on that point, the task force moved on to other issues, but never resolved whether it’d remove the part about when the economy improves. It ended up staying in the resolution, which still is going through final edits.

“Our transportation needs are real and growing, and the safety of Idaho citizens remains one of our highest priorities,” Otter said in his news release. “But too many people remain jobless, under-employed or on the ragged edge financially to impose higher costs on them right now. I won’t ask the Legislature to approve any funding increases in 2011, but the task force has provided us with a path forward while we keep doing all we can to get people back to work by growing our economy.” Click below to read the governor’s full news release, which came out last night at 8 p.m.

Lake: ‘We chose a cautious way out’

Here’s  a link to my full story at on today’s final recommendations from Gov. Butch Otter’s transportation funding task force, which were 18 months in the making. House Tax Chairman Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, cast the only vote against the task force’s final  resolution. “I wanted the task force to come up with specific recommendations to fund enhancements for the Department of Transportation - we didn’t do it,” Lake said. “I think that we chose a cautious way out.” Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, disagreed. “We’ve identified the problem, we’ve identified the tools - that was our task,” she said. “Now that goes to the governor and the Legislature.”

While stopping short of calling for any specific revenue increases or any specific timeline for them, the task force said Idaho needs to spend $543 million a year more on its roads, and it laid out a prioritized list of two dozen possible ways to raise the money, topped by increasing the state’s gas tax.

Task force: ‘Our work is done’

The governor’s transportation funding task force also has agreed to support a legislative task force’s recommendation to permanently restore to the Idaho Department of Parks & Recreation the 3 percent share of gas taxes that it’s long been receiving for trails, reflecting the amount of gas that’s burned off-road in ATV’s, boats, snowmobiles and the like.  An end-of-session compromise on transportation funding two years ago sought to shift that money to ITD, but lawmakers then agreed to put that off until July 1, 2011; this recommendation would reverse it permanently, should the Legislature follow it. Task force members said there’s no need for them to address how to fund the Idaho State Police as a legislative task force will address that; they were the other, larger piece of that funding shift. The task force agreed that that portion of the shift should continue.

When Lt. Gov. Brad Little asked for unanimous consent to all items in the task force’s final resolution, only Rep. Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, objected. “OK, with one objection they’re accepted,” Little said.

“Task force members, I think our work is done,” Little told the panel. He added, “One of the things that makes Idaho a great state and makes us very competitive is how hard it is to raise taxes.” But he said being proactive to address major needs also distinguishes the state, versus other states that end up having to do things like release prison inmates due to budget shortfalls. “Frankly I’m very pleased at how things came out today,” Little said. “I think we’ve come up with a  roadmap. I think we’ve acknowledged how difficult it’s going to be.”

Task force: ‘We can’t do it now’

Rather than come up with specific proposals to raise gas taxes, registration fees or other revenue sources, the governor’s transportation funding task force has opted to simply send along a matrix it agreed to earlier in which it defined and prioritized the various ways the state could raise hundreds of millions more for roads. Increasing fuel tax is at the top of the list. The task force also has agreed to forward a recommendation from its cost allocation subcommittee to consider phasing over several years any moves to correct equity between how much cars and heavy trucks pay for roads; included a call for re-examining distribution formulas to local highway jurisdictions; and noted a subcommittee’s list of possible ways to fund public transportation in the long term, including local-option taxes.

This goes along with the task force’s determination that Idaho needs $543 million a year more to address its transportation needs. “Chairman Lake was exactly right - we can’t get there from here with the fuel taxes and things in the economy that we have,” said task force member Jim Kempton. “There may be a time in the future we can do it. We can’t do it now.”

No decisions yet, but plenty of disagreement

No decisions yet. House Tax Chairman Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, noted that if Idaho were to raise its gas tax enough to fund the whole $540 million-plus need the governor’s transportation funding task force has identified, “We’d be facing a 66 cent a gallon fuel tax increase. I don’t think there’s a person on the committee that thinks that’s realistic.” House Transportation Chair JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, said, “Realistically, if you’re going to go through the committee and ask them to raise the gas tax, you’re going to run into reluctance to do it higher than the states around us. So how much can we do that? … This is difficult.”

Other task force members said all options need to be looked at, not just gas tax hikes. But they disagreed on whether their recommendation should be for what should be done when the economy improves, or what should be done when the governor and Legislature think the time is right, or what. Task force member Gordon Cruickshank said, “I guess I look at that as what happens if the economy doesn’t improve. … We’re basically saying if it doesn’t improve we’re not going to do anything.”

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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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