BOISE – Idaho Gov. Butch Otter defended his cuts to education and his track record as governor Thursday night, as he met four rivals in the final debate before Tuesday’s election.
“The choice had to be made, because there’s only two ways that you can balance the budget: You either cut the government or you increase the tax load for the citizenry,” Otter declared. “We chose the former.”
Democratic challenger Keith Allred strongly disagreed, and peppered Otter with criticisms over his handling of the budget, his administration’s flubs and his overall leadership.
“Butch Otter wants to blame all of his administration’s problems on the economy and other external circumstances. The one thing that tells you is don’t expect any better performance in the next four years – he thinks the performance of his administration has been fine,” Allred said. “We need a governor who can do his homework and get his facts right.”
Otter accepted responsibility for a mistake in the governor’s office that may cost Idaho farmers $10 million in disaster payments.
“We lost that paperwork for a week and that was the last week that we could actually apply for that,” Otter said. “So mea culpa, that was our fault. But the $10 million is a stretch. I would agree that there was some loss, no question about it.” He said he tried repeatedly, but without success, to get a federal waiver on the missed deadline.
Independent candidate Jana Kemp, a former GOP state lawmaker from Boise, said, “The key is that in the governor’s office, all communication must be managed effectively. Without that, things fall through the cracks. … The pattern must come to an end. If you want to keep living in the past and mistakes that have been made, you know how to vote.”
Otter defended his moves to cut schools and higher education when he had promised improvements, and to close Health and Welfare offices around the state, although he came into office promising to make the state government more “customer-focused.”
“We had about a $130 million surplus in our budget, we had 2.7 percent unemployment,” Otter said. “This last two years things have gotten a little tough and we’ve had to make some tough decisions.”
Allred said Otter used “doom and gloom” revenue projections that forced cuts to schools that weren’t needed, and cited the $14 million that tax revenues have come in ahead of projections in the past three months as proof.
The candidate formerly known as Marvin Richardson, who legally changed his name to Pro-Life, said he opposes public education and would cut it. “It’s a communist doctrine,” he said.
Ted Dunlap, the Libertarian candidate, said he wanted to give a $5,000 tax break to families that send their children to schools outside the public system. “Education is far too important to leave to a government monopoly,” he said.
Asked if they’d dip into school endowment reserve funds to help save Idaho’s schools from more cuts next year, Allred said yes, Kemp said no, and Otter said it would depend on the magnitude of the state’s shortfall.
“This is serious business,” Otter said. “This is no time for theory, no time for ‘maybe it’ll work.’ ”