BOISE – Idaho is “probably not” meeting the state constitution’s requirements to provide for education, Gov. Butch Otter told a crowd of more than 400 people last week.
The implications of that are serious: The state currently is being sued over the issue.
“I would say we’re probably not, but we’re doing the best job that we can, and we’re going to continue to do the best job that we can,” the governor said.
The topic came up when Otter asked for questions at the end of his luncheon speech to the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho’s annual conference, a traditional run-up to Idaho’s legislative session. The first question came from former longtime state chief economist Mike Ferguson, who completed a study this year noting a sharp drop in the state’s investment in schools over the past decade and a half.
“Do you believe that the state of Idaho is maintaining a general, uniform and thorough system of public education?” Ferguson asked. That’s the standard required by the Idaho Constitution. “And if so,” Ferguson asked, “how do you square that with the dramatic increase in unequalized property taxes to fund public schools in Idaho?”
Otter first said, “I’m not prepared to answer that question, to be quite frank with you.” He noted the “rural nature of the state,” and how that’s led to differing course offerings in remote school districts versus more urban ones.
Otter also said he thought the Idaho Education Network, which provides broadband service to Idaho high schools, was helping with that by offering distance education to remote rural districts.
Then he made his “probably not” comment.
Nonini receives three committee seats
New Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, got three committee assignments: Education, Agriculture and Transportation. There had been some speculation that Nonini might be left without committee assignments as punishment for his attempts in the primary to unseat sitting GOP senators by bankrolling their primary challengers.
“I talked to all those that were involved,” said Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg. “There was no indication anyone wanted retribution. … I had no cries from those that were most affected to mete out any kind of punishment.”
He added, “I would speculate that if it were to happen again, the mood would be very much different. … We can make a mistake once.”
Nonini pronounced himself “very happy” with his assignments.
Denney to chair resources panel
New House Speaker Scott Bedke has named former House Speaker Lawerence Denney chairman of the House Resources Committee. “I feel very strongly that we don’t have the luxury to not use our experienced legislators, including Rep. Denney,” Bedke said.
Bedke, R-Oakley, ousted Denney as speaker last week.
Denney, R-Midvale, accepted the chairmanship – which he didn’t seek – and said he thinks Resources is among the state’s most important committees. “I told Scott that I want to do anything that I can to help him be successful,” Denney said Friday.
Bedke promised an open and inclusive leadership style, and said even freshman lawmakers will play substantive roles, serving on key committees. “We will find the consensus on each issue and if you’re outside that consensus, that should be OK, and then we’ll go on to the next issue,” Bedke said, adding that House members shouldn’t be afraid to speak out.
“I would like to create a very positive group dynamic. I believe, if we all feel comfortable laying our cards on the table, that we can make a hand that’s superior to each of ours individually.”
One way to spend 90th birthday
Idaho’s oldest lawmaker turned 90 on Thursday. Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, spent his birthday participating in the Legislature’s organizational session and working on economic development issues. “It’s spectacular,” Henderson said. “Sixth of December, 1922. My parents said they gave me some durable genes, and that’s what it takes.”
Asked if there’s anything else he’d rather spend his 90th birthday doing, Henderson said he does like to travel. But, he said, “This is an important part of my life.” He said he’ll travel later.
On Friday, he was named chairman of the House Business Committee.
Otter hints on health exchange
Gov. Otter must notify the federal government by Friday whether Idaho will create a state-run health insurance exchange, partner with the federal government or let the feds handle it. Otter said the decision will have a big impact on the legislative session that convenes in January.
“There’s going to be a lot of heavy lifting, because in many ways we’re not the architects of these problems but … I believe … that we are up to the task,” he said.
He noted that some of his colleagues, other states’ Republican governors, have decided to let the feds operate their exchanges because “they’re still philosophically opposed to what is the law, and what is the law of the land. I want to remind you that we are a republic,” Otter said.
“Like it or not, we tried to change the law, we’ve done everything we possibly could, and now with the best interests of … Idahoans we now have to make that decision and that decision will come down. It’s not going to please everybody, I’m sure. Those of us that have to make the decision probably won’t be pleased about it.”