BOISE – Sen. Russ Fulcher is ripping Gov. Butch Otter’s proposal for a new $2 million wolf control fund. “I don’t know what we need to spend $2 million for,” Fulcher said on a Boise talk radio show this past week, after Otter announced the new fund in his State of the State message. Fulcher, who is challenging Otter in the GOP primary, said Otter’s plan would “create another bureaucracy in order to manage this.”
Otter’s proposed state budget for next year calls for spending $2 million in state general funds to start up the new fund, and then adding contributions each year of $110,000 from hunting license fees and the livestock industry to sustain the fund. “This three-pronged approach will provide the revenue needed to more effectively control Idaho’s burgeoning wolf population and ease the impact on our livestock and wildlife,” Otter said to applause.
Wolf control is a touchy subject; Idaho currently is being sued over its move to hire a professional hunter to exterminate two wolf packs in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, and federal wildlife agencies have lost a chunk of their funding for such efforts to federal budget cuts in recent years.
Fulcher, R-Meridian, said, “Why wouldn’t we just increase the number of (wolf hunting) tags and let one predator take care of another? … This is an emotional issue in this state. I don’t know why we need another bureaucracy.”
Jones joins race
Jana Jones, a Democrat who narrowly lost to Tom Luna in 2006, is making another run for state superintendent of public instruction. “I’ve spent the last 40 years in education in the classroom, in school districts, at the state level, and in both the public and private sectors and I know what it takes to bring everyone to the table to do what’s best for Idaho’s kids,” Jones said in her announcement.
Jones, who holds a bachelor’s degree in special education and a doctorate in educational leadership, taught public school and holds state endorsements to serve as a principal, superintendent and special education director. She also founded a prominent early childhood education center in Idaho Falls, headed Gov. Cecil Andrus’ Office for Children, worked at the state Department of Education under three superintendents and was chief deputy superintendent to then-Superintendent Marilyn Howard. In the 2006 election, Luna defeated Jones 51 percent to 49 percent; Luna had lost to Howard four years earlier.
Jones said, “There’s lots of work to do. Budgets and programs have been cut, classrooms are overcrowded, local control has been diminished and trust has been lost. You have to ask yourself: Do you feel better about our schools today than you did a few years ago? Probably not. I want us to start feeling good about our schools again.”
Luna, a Republican, has not yet announced whether he’ll seek a third term as superintendent. He was re-elected in 2010 with 60.5 percent of the vote, but his signature school reform laws were repealed by voters last year, with one drawing a 66.7 percent “no” vote.
Public hearing set
Nearly 2,000 people traveled to Boise from all parts of the state in 2011 and 2012 to have their say on the state budget at big public hearings, a first for the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. Until then, it had been the only committee in the Legislature that didn’t take public testimony, though it writes the entire state budget.
That ended last year, when two hearings were scheduled but then legislative leaders canceled them, saying they didn’t want the budget committee to get out ahead of the House and Senate education committees as they considered the results of voters’ rejection of the Students Come First school reform referendums.
Now, the public hearings are back. This year, the Health and Welfare and Education committees will host public hearings, and then JFAC will have one, too – on Valentine’s Day.
“I think it’s important,” said JFAC Co-Chair Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. Past hearings came during big budget cuts. Times are different now, but there’s still not enough state revenue to cover all the identified needs, Cameron said. “It’s important to help us prioritize the money that we have.”
Knew it’d be tepid?
Fulcher issued a video response to Otter’s State of the State message decrying Otter’s “tepid leadership” and saying the two-term governor’s address “offers more evidence that he is out of touch with Idaho’s problems.” His campaign acknowledged, however, that the video was prerecorded – before Fulcher saw the speech.