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Otter vetoes 10 bills in road funding fight

Mon., April 20, 2009, 1:38 p.m.

Gov. Butch Otter vetoes two bills on Monday (Betsy Russell / The Spokesman-Review)
Gov. Butch Otter vetoes two bills on Monday (Betsy Russell / The Spokesman-Review)

BOISE - Gov. Butch Otter smashed his big, red “VETO” stamp on two unrelated bills this morning, and told lawmakers he was sending them a message: Pass transportation funding increases by this Wednesday night or else. Then, just hours later, he vetoed eight more bills to send the message even more strongly.

Otter said this morning that he had eight appropriation bills on his desk to sign into law by Thursday - and he was holding them to see if lawmakers act to raise taxes to fund road maintenance. All are must-pass measures that make up important parts of the state budget. But now he’s vetoed all eight.

“Consistent with my desire to provide you with the time to positively address our need for an ongoing source of transportation revenue, I am vetoing these bills and will continue vetoing appropriations bills until an adequate transportation bill is approved by the Legislature and delivered for my consideration,” Otter declared in a veto message.

Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said, “I think there was a feeling that what he said this morning wasn’t being perceived as a strong enough message, and he wanted to make it perfectly clear.” Cameron said JFAC will have to reconsider all those budgets. “We understand this is part of the process, particularly this time of the year, and it’s one of the tools the governor has to keep us here,” he said.

The first two vetoed bills this morning included HB 161a, a measure from Rep. Tom Trail, R-Moscow, that passed both houses unanimously and would have required state security breaches that release people’s personal information to be reported to the Attorney General’s office; and HB 245, which established a Parents as Teachers program under the Children’s Trust Fund. Among the multiple co-sponsors of that bill was Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, who’s been an outspoken critic of the governor’s gas tax proposal in the House.

But Otter said “I think I would’ve vetoed these bills no matter - in fact, I don’t even know who carried the bills.”

The Senate today tentatively plans to amend a House bill to add in the governor’s favored funding increases, likely including a gas tax hike. Otter said the amended Senate bill is the “going-home bill” and the Senate amendments will give him what he wants on transportation.

“I’m prepared to stay as long as I have to in order to get some responsible legislation that reflects our transportation revenues,” Otter said. “There is another avenue that we’re exploring right now and that is a special session the day after they adjourn.”

Lawmakers can’t end their session without passing a budget; if the governor vetoes budget bills, they have to start over on them and pass new ones.

Senate Transportation Chairman John McGee, R-Caldwell, is sponsoring the transportation amendments that the governor favors, Otter said. “I’m asking the Legislature to please move forward on the Senate bill,” Otter declared. “I’ve gone over what’s happening in the Senate. …. Leadership is not easy.”

The Idaho House has voted five times against legislation to increase the gas tax, with members of both parties opposing it. With so many members of his own party opposing his bill, Otter has been courting minority Democrats, but many of them have opposed it as well.

After the governor’s vetoes this morning, House Minority Caucus Chairman Bill Killen, D-Boise, who attended, said House Democrats continue talks with the governor on the transportation issue. “We have been carrying on discussions with the governor about transportation,” he said. “I didn’t hear anything in there that would change that.” Asked what the Democrats want, Killen said, “Anything that would help our schools.”

Otter said in his veto message on the eight appropriation bills that he doesn’t intend to call a special session, “because I am not going to let this session end until this legitimate and proper role of government is addressed in the manner it deserves.”

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