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Eye On Boise

Posts tagged: stimulus

Otter stimulus praise puts him at odds with Romney

Gov. Butch Otter on Friday offered begrudging praise for President Barack Obama's 2009 economic stimulus fund, saying it has helped complete highway projects in Idaho, create jobs and reduce the need for state gas tax hikes, reports AP reporter John Miller. Those comments appeared to put him at odds with Mitt Romney, who has the Idaho governor's backing for president and who says Obama's $814 million stimulus “didn't create private-sector jobs,” Miller reports. The apparent difference is notable because Otter is the Romney's Idaho campaign chairman; he introduced the former Massachusetts governor at Idaho's March 6 “Super Tuesday” caucus, where Romney beat Rick Santorum. Click below for Miller's full report.

Idaho will apply for fed school aid

Idaho will qualify for $51.6 million in aid to its hard-hit public schools under the new federal jobs bill, and Gov. Butch Otter has announced that he’ll apply for the money, a decision welcomed by state schools Supt. Tom Luna. Click below to read Otter’s full news release.

Idaho could get $51M under fed jobs bill

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The state Department of Education says Idaho is expected to receive $51 million as part of a $10 billion job saving measure that has passed the U.S. House of Representatives. The legislation is part of a larger, $26 billion jobs bill aimed at helping teachers and other public workers avoid layoffs. The bill now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature. State education officials are still getting details on how the money will be spent or distributed.

Appliance rebates still available in Idaho, but they’re going fast

Idahoans can still get rebates of up to $300 if they’re replacing an older appliance with a new Energy Star-rated one, according to the Idaho Office of Energy Resources. The Idaho rebate program, which is funded by federal stimulus legislation, has nearly $300,000 still to hand out of its original $1.2 million; so far, more than 3,600 rebates have been awarded in Idaho. “If people have been waiting to buy a new appliance and get a rebate, they should act soon,” said state energy resources chief Paul Kjellander. “We anticipate that funds will be exhausted by the end of August, perhaps earlier.” Click here for more info. Kjellander’s office calculates that people who replace older appliances can save the amount of the rebate or more every year just from their energy savings, because the newer ones are more efficient.

Low bids on highway projects are saving millions for Idaho

Idaho is saving tens of millions because construction bids on its big federal stimulus-funded highway projects - including the Dover Bridge in North Idaho and the Vista Interchange in Boise - are coming in so far under budget. The result: Instead of just the eight big projects around the state that are planned, Idaho should be able to add to its list, and a North Idaho bottleneck on U.S. Highway 95 could benefit. “They are very competitive bids, extremely competitive,” said Jeff Stratten, spokesman for the Idaho Transportation Department. “Contractors are eager and hungry to go to work, and their bids are reflecting it.” Said ITD board member Jim Coleman, “We’re getting five or six bids in places that we would get one or two before.”

The low bid for the Dover Bridge replacement project alone came in $15.2 million below the original budget estimate. The Vista Interchange on I-84 came in a whopping $21.2 million below the estimate. So far, five of the eight stimulus-funded projects have gone to bid, and the apparent low bids total $40.9 million less than the original estimates; there are still three more projects to go to bid in the next few weeks. Dozens of highway projects around the state could vie for a share of the savings - including the two-mile gap that’s been left unfunded at the south end of the Garwood-to-Sagle freeway project on U.S. Highway 95 in North Idaho. That long-planned four-lane highway will end two miles shy of the existing four-lane highway at Hayden, creating a potential two-lane, two-mile bottleneck.

“Believe me, when somebody finds out we have some money that hasn’t been allocated, there will be projects that people will want,” said Darrell Manning, chairman of the Idaho Transportation Board. “They’re all good projects, they’re all needed projects.” When the board first looked at candidates for stimulus funding, he said, “We had $800 million worth of projects.” After all eight stimulus projects have gone to bid, the ITD staff will develop a recommendation on candidates for the leftover money, and the transportation board will begin discussing which ones to pick as soon as July.

Several factors led to the lower bids, including a drop in prices for commodities like oil, asphalt and steel worldwide since the budget estimates first were developed, and pent-up demand for work among contractors in the region due to the tough economy. For the Dover Bridge replacement, ITD received five bids, all from contractors in the region. The lowest was $21.6 million from Sletten Construction of Great Falls, Mont.; the highest was $23.6 million from another Great Falls firm. All five were far below the $36.8 million budget. For the Vista Interchange, ITD received six bids, with the lowest, $17.8 million, from Central Paving Co. of Boise. The highest was $21.2 million from Idaho Sand and Gravel of Nampa; all six were far below the budget of $39 million. You can read my full story here in today’s Spokesman-Review.

Dems: ‘Doesn’t make sense to us’

Legislative Democrats were waiting outside Gov. Butch Otter’s stimulus press conference to give their response. While they gave the governor high marks for deciding to take the stimulus money, and had some praise for the process he followed, they objected to the magnitude of cuts in education he endorsed, while essentially banking millions in stimulus money and state reserve funds to hedge against additional future economic downturns. House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, offered this analogy: “If you have a sick family member and money in the bank, to say, ‘Well, don’t take care of the sick family member, let’s save the money in case they get sicker’ - that just doesn’t make sense to us.”

‘I didn’t see it putting people to work’

Gov. Butch Otter said Reps. Moyle and Bedke came over and pitched to him their idea of using $45 million of federal stimulus for corporate tax cuts - all the discretionary money the governor had to divide. “Listen, they’ve got a lot of different ideas over there,” Otter said. “I didn’t see it putting jobs on the street, I didn’t see it putting people to work.” He said he discussed the idea with “the business community” and they didn’t think it was the right way to go now, either.

‘We’ll find middle ground’

After hearing the governor’s proposals for spending stimulus money and adjusting Idaho’s state budget - largely by boosting road spending and cutting everything else - Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said, “I applaud the governor in his desire to protect the infrastructure of the state - that’s important. But the infrastructure of the state is not just roads - it’s corrections, it’s state police, it’s education. We can’t afford to let that infrastructure slide. We only get a chance once to educate a child in the first grade or to teach ‘em to read. If we fail in that infrastructure, it’ll be much more painful … than in roads.”

Cameron said, “My preference isn’t to hit education that hard, but the committee will have to decide where it goes.” He predicted, “We’ll find middle ground,” and said, “We have all the pieces on the table. It’s our job to put this puzzle together.”

‘Soften the blow’

Idaho school districts will receive sharply increased funding from the federal government for special education through the IDEA program under the federal stimulus - offsetting some of the districts’ own local funds they’ve been putting into the federally required programs. Under questioning from Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, the governor’s budget director, Wayne Hammon, said, “It will relieve pressure in the local district so they can … soften the blow of the reduction in state funds.” However, he said, the governor is urging districts not to commit that money to ongoing needs, like salaries, out of fear that the federal boost may not last beyond two years. The Obama Administration has said it wants this to be the new permanent funding level for IDEA, but Otter told Eye on Boise on Tuesday, “I don’t believe it.” He added, “I’d be happy. And we’re not burning any bridges, so in two years if we figure that out, great, take that other 20 percent that they haven’t been giving us, then we can convert that to improving classroom teachers by paying ‘em more.” But for now, he said, he’s skeptical.

No GARVEE, no Dover Bridge

Gov. Otter’s budget director made it clear to JFAC this morning that the governor’s plan to fund eight major road projects around the state with federal stimulus money - including the Dover Bridge and the Vista Interchange - is dependent on the Legislature also approving additional GARVEE bonding to continue bond-funded projects already under way in high-priority highway corridors. “The governor has come to these conclusions on the assumption that the Legislature extends bonding authority,” Hammond told lawmakers. If not, he said, the governor would move stimulus money into the projects that otherwise would be funded with bonds.

Guv: Roads are ‘an immediate need’

Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, asked Wayne Hammon, the governor’s budget director, “You want to increase taxes for roads, spend stimulus for roads, borrow for roads and cut education. … I’m truly trying to understand … (why the governor would want) to have education suffer that much.” Hammond responded, “That’s a very good question. … Nobody likes cutting budgets. The governor  believes that fixing our infrastructure is an immediate need, that we must do something.” Schools are being protected from cuts in the current year, Hammon said; they’ll experience cuts next year like all other state agencies.

‘No need to reinvent the wheel’

“The governor’s first priority is to protect jobs,” Wayne Hammon, Gov. Butch Otter’s budget director, told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee this morning as he began presenting the governor’s recommendations for spending $1.24 billion in federal economic stimulus money. “People think there’s a $1 billion bucket of money hidden somewhere behind Sen. Cameron’s chair or something,” he told the committee. “You all know that’s not the case. There are literally hundreds of tiny buckets of money … that are dedicated to specific activities and specific projects that have to be appropriated.”

When the governor and his stimulus committee sorted through more than a thousand proposals from local governments, charities and businesses across the state for a slice of the stimulus pie, “The committee and the governor came to the understanding that the fastest way to put the most Idahoans back to work in good-paying jobs is through programs we already have, and that there was no need to reinvent the wheel or start picking and choosing across the state,” Hammon said. That’s why, instead funding any of those requests, Otter is recommending putting the $45 million in discretionary funds into water and road projects.

Otter endorses cuts to public schools

Gov. Butch Otter is endorsing the first-ever cuts in public schools funding in Idaho, saying the $1.24 billion in federal economic stimulus funds he’s decided to accept aren’t enough to stave off the cuts. Otter, who released his recommendations for taking the stimulus money late today, also called for sticking to plans lawmakers endorsed earlier – before the federal stimulus bill passed – to cut 5 percent across the board from personnel costs statewide.“The governor recommends keeping this necessary cost-cutting measure in place in all agency budgets drawing from the general fund,” his stimulus plan said.

Asked on Tuesday about the prospect of cutting schools when the state stands to receive a big boost from the stimulus, Otter told Eye on Boise, “Yeah, sure it bothers me, but I understand why. Because these are all ongoing needs and they can’t all be satisfied by this one-time plug of money.” Otter said he liked the idea of keeping reserve funds intact, despite making the cuts to schools. “It’s still good to have that rainy-day fund – it’s still good to have that equalizer between what-if and what-if-not,” he said. “And I’m still convinced that this thing isn’t going to be over with in just one or two years.”

Otter: ‘I’m feeling good about it’

After applauding a group of young Irish dancers and declaring “Irish-American Heritage Month in Idaho” this morning, Gov. Butch Otter reflected a bit on his first meeting yesterday with his executive stimulus committee, which includes three former governors and five former state budget directors. “I’m feeling good about it, from the aspect that we now understand the limitations and the rules, if you will, the rules and the regulations,” he told Eye on Boise. “My gosh, we had 35 years of institutional memory setting there. They all had holdbacks and they all had small recessions, John Evans had one of the biggest in ‘81-‘83. Anyway, it was great.”

Otter said the kind of guidance he wanted was “the institutional memory and direction and discipline that each and every one of ‘em brought. They’d say, ‘Boy, don’t do this because I remember when we had to do that. Be careful of getting any of this money into the ongoing needs.’ … I got a lot of that. There were some great questions from all three former governors.” Otter met with his committee for two and a half hours yesterday, he said. Asked what comes next, he said, “I meet with them again tomorrow and show ‘em my draft, we look at my draft, if we have a fairly good understanding and acceptance of the draft I hopefully will be submitting that to the Legislature three days ahead of my own pre-set schedule, and quite a few days ahead of the federal government’s schedule.” That’d put Otter’s presentation of his revised budget proposal to lawmakers on Monday.

Otter: I’ll take stimulus money

Despite national reports that Idaho Gov. Butch Otter was among a few governors who would reject federal stimulus money, Otter said Friday that he’ll take most – if not all – of the cash. “I’m gonna hold my nose, and I’m gonna take it,” he told the Idaho Press Club. The transportation money, in particular, carries strings that require the state to accept all or none of it, Otter said. “If you reject one dollar of that, they take it all – so you’ve got to reject all of it or none of it.” The remainder of Idaho’s roughly $1 billion in stimulus funds is mostly for either education or health and human services, and Otter said he’ll rely on guidance from state schools Superintendent Tom Luna and state Health and Welfare Director Dick Armstrong on those funds. Luna is calling for accepting “every penny” of the education funds, and Armstrong built his Medicaid budget around the anticipated federal help.

“I’ve never said that I wouldn’t take any of the stimulus package,” Otter said. “It’d been my druthers that they didn’t do it in the first place, and didn’t do it the way they did it. You know, if you’d put it all into jobs creation or jobs retention, to me that would have been much more acceptable.” But with the money on its way, Otter said he’s ready to take it, providing it doesn’t obligate the state to replace the federal funds when they end by raising state taxes. You can read my full story here in today’s Spokesman-Review.

Guv plays GARVEE against stimulus

The Associated Press is reporting that Gov. Butch Otter has told lawmakers if they don’t back $125 million in GARVEE bonds for six ongoing Connecting Idaho projects in fiscal year 2010, he’ll redirect millions from transportation-related federal stimulus dollars to Connecting Idaho, instead.

“That’s after some legislators expressed reluctance about approving more bonds, because past proceeds haven’t been spent on projects yet and they fear giving Idaho Transportation Department managers too much at once,” AP reporter John  Miller reports. “If Otter follows through, 10 Idaho projects slated for $202 million in federal stimulus funding might go empty handed. Rep. George Eskridge, a backer of a new Dover Bridge in northern Idaho that could get some $40 million from the stimulus, is skeptical about more bonding. But Otter’s threat can’t be taken lightly, Eskridge said. ‘The governor’s got a lot of leverage there, at least for those of us who have got those 10 projects.’ “

‘There’s people stimulus won’t help’

Why was the request of a disabled woman from Shoshone for $34,000 to pay off credit card debt among the $4.7 billion in stimulus funding requests that Gov. Butch Otter received? Asked if she really expected to get anything, Melody Russell told the Assoicated Press, “To be honest, no. … But I can always wish and hope,” said Russell, whose debt is from the family’s crushing medical bills. “I mainly wanted the governor to know that there’s people here who that stimulus is not going to help at all. My 10-year-old was telling me the other day, her clothes were getting a little small.” Click here to read the full story from AP reporter John Miller, plus see some of the North Idaho projects on the lists of requests, from school renovations to new libraries and fire stations. Click below to read Melody Russell’s heartfelt letter to the governor requesting the funds.

ITD board approves stimulus projects

The list is now final: The Idaho Transportation Board has approved $28 million in local highway projects to be targeted with federal economic stimulus funds, and $149.9 million in state highway projects, including the Dover Bridge, the Vista Interchange, and six other projects around the state. Plus, as directed by the stimulus bill, $5.9 million would go to an enhancement project, “hardscaping” at the 10-Mile Interchange. That adds up to $183.9 million - about $2 million more than the stimulus actually will send to Idaho for such road projects. That may mean that not all of the local projects get funded, or that the first ones in get the money; some of those still are being defined. The board also has approved $18.4 million in public transit projects. All of these recommendations still must go to Gov. Butch Otter, and then he’ll make his proposals to the Legislature, which will set budgets - which Otter then signs into law.

The eight major state highway projects, which earlier had been estimated to cost $182 million on their own, now come in at $149.9 million. They are: Dover Bridge replacement, $36.8 million; US 95 Moscow Mountain Passing Lane in Latah County, $3.9 million; White Bird Grade to Chain-Up Area on US 95, $5.2 million; Vista Avenue interchange, $43.4 million; US 93 Twin Falls Alternate Route, $40.4 million; I-86 Chubbuck Interchange to Pocatello Creek Interchange, $11.3 million; US 20 Henry’s Lake Flat Passing Lanes, $3.5 million; and SH 48 Rigby High School to Yellowstone Highway, $5.4 million.

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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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