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Otter appoints Hippler as 4th District judge, passes over Bock

Gov. Butch Otter today appointed Boise attorney Steven Hippler to a new district judge position in the 4th Judicial District. Hippler, 47, has been a partner with Givens Pursley since 2002; click below for the governor's full announcement. In addition to Hippler, the finalists for the judgeship included state Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise; Roger Cockerille; and Jason D. Scott.

Otter: ‘Federal dysfunction and mismanagement hurting Idahoans’

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter says Idahoans are being hurt by “federal dysfunction and mismanagement,” and he’s plenty mad about it.“Many thousands of Idahoans woke up today desperately uncertain about the future, much less their next paycheck,” Otter said in a statement. “Congress and the President are so focused on the political battle inside the Beltway that they’re ignoring the very real problems they’re creating on Main Street.”

Otter said states like Idaho are trying to do “what we can to backfill such programs as highway construction and repairs, but for the most part we aren’t even allowed to step into the breach.” Said Otter, “Our pleas are falling on deaf ears, and our patience is spent.” He announced he’ll head to Washington, D.C. next week to “speak directly with Cabinet members about Idaho’s biggest on-the-ground challenges,” but said he’s “less than optimistic about the response.” Click below for Otter’s full statement.

Otter now says he’s open to considering possible state takeover of troubled private prison

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter now says he’s open to ideas from legislative leaders and others on whether the state should take over running its troubled private prison, or whether a new private operator should be sought.             “I’m going to listen to other people,” Otter said. “I’m not foreclosing that discussion.”

Corrections Corp. of America, the nation’s largest private prison operator, announced last week that it will leave Idaho, and won’t submit a new bid to operate the Idaho Correctional Center south of Boise when its contract ends next summer. The state Department of Correction is developing a request for proposals for a new private operator.

“I am confident that I am not the source of all great wisdom,” Otter said. He said he wants to “hear all the ideas from JFAC and all the ideas from leadership, as to what we ought to do.” JFAC is the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, which sets the state budget; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Gary Michael named to Lottery Commission

Gary Michael, former chairman and CEO of the Albertson's grocery chain, was appointed to the Idaho Lottery Commission today by Gov. Butch Otter; the commission had a vacancy due to the death of longtime commission Chairman Roger Jones of Glenns Ferry in August. Michael, 73, retired from the grocery chain in 2001.  Otter also elevated lottery Commissioner Mel Fisher to the commission's chairmanship; click below for Otter's full announcement.

Idaho Falls attorney named to bench

Alan Stephens, a longtime attorney in Idaho Falls, has been named to a new post as a 7th District judge by Gov. Butch Otter. “I was impressed once again by the quality and diversity of candidates put forward by the Judicial Council, including a prosecutor and a magistrate," Otter said. "Alan has a long and distinguished career as a civil litigator, and I believe his experience and skill set make him an excellent match for the caseload in the Seventh District.” Click below for Otter's full announcement.

The other two finalists for the judgeship were Stephen J. Clark, a magistrate judge in Salmon, and Bruce L. Pickett, a prosecuting attorney for Bonneville County in Idaho Falls. Amy Wallace Potter also was a candidate for the judgeship but wasn’t selected by the state Judicial Council as a finalist; she’s a lawyer in private practice in Jackson, Wyo. who resides in Victor, Idaho.

Butch Can’t Shake Tight Jeans Past

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s winning a tight jeans contest has become an unwelcome part of his legacy. In the new edition of the “Almanac of American Politics,” word of Otter’s 1992 victory at Boise’s Rockin’ Rodeo lounge appears on page 523 of the 1,904-page book published by National Journal and the University of Chicago Press. Otter was 50 at the time and bested competitors half his age, who were judged on “looks, appearance in jeans, total body shape and sex appeal.” A waitress said the then-lieutenant governor’s win was no upset. “He looked great,” she said. The Almanac has also used the Otter bit in at least two prior editions, 2004 and 2006/Dan Popkey, Idaho Statesman. More here. (AP file photo: Butch Otter, left, and Karl Stressman, of Colorado Springs, Colo., compete during the team roping Pocatello in 2010)

Question: Should Butch run from or embrace his "tight-jeans" contest win of some time ago?

Lt. Gov. Little launches re-election bid, quelling talk of run for governor…

Idaho Lt. Gov. Brad Little launched his re-election campaign this morning, quelling – at least for now – speculation that Gov. Butch Otter would step aside and allow his hand-picked running mate a shot at the top job. “I’m here to support Brad,” Otter declared as he joined more than 100 of Little’s supporters at City Park in Emmett, Little’s home town, for a combination pancake breakfast and campaign kickoff.  Asked if he thinks Little is a future governor, Otter shot back, “He should be.”

But the 71-year-old GOP governor said he’s set on seeking a third term. “I think we’ve been a great team,” he said. “I think we’ll continue to be a great team for the next four years.” Otter said if he’s re-elected, “I have no reason to believe I will not complete four years.” He added, “I’m healthy as a horse.”

Little, 59, a prominent rancher and former four-term state senator, was appointed lieutenant governor by Otter in 2009, and elected to a full term in the part-time post in 2010. Otter’s given him a more prominent role than past lieutenant governors – including Otter himself, who was Idaho’s lieutenant governor for 14 years; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Kenck: Otter Leads Idaho To Bottom

Gov. Otter is desperate to make us forget what has happened to Idaho’s schools and Idaho’s economy under his watch. To a crowd at the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce, the governor declared that Idaho’s economy “is in great shape.” A few days later, this headline came out in Idaho’s largest newspaper, “Idaho Wages Lose Ground in 2012.” The first line painted a bleak picture: “Already among the lowest-paying states, Idaho wages fell even further behind in 2012, according to the Idaho Department of Labor.” We are now 46th in the nation for average wages. This should surprise no one — especially the governor. He already knew that Idaho leads the U.S. in the percentage of workers who earn minimum wage/Larry Kenck, chairman of the Idaho Democratic Party, IdahoED News. More here.

Question: How much blame should be put on Gov. Butch Otter for Idaho's low wages and poorly funded education system?

Sun Valley back open for business after wildfire, governor urges visitors to return

Baldy reopens at Sun Valley today, with gondola rides from 10-5 daily through Sept. 8 and the Roundhouse and Lookout restaurants open. This comes as the resort community pulls out of the unexpected high-season slump brought by the huge Beaver Creek wildfire, which is now 93 percent contained. The focus there is turning to rehab after the wildfire, and the community’s big Wagon Days event is on for this weekend.

Gov. Butch Otter yesterday urged people to return to the Sun Valley-Ketchum area. “If you get a chance to go to Wagon Days, if you get a chance to let those folks know that we’re thinking about them, go to Sun Valley, spend a little money – please do,” he told more than 600 people at a Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce luncheon yesterday. “Because they’ll appreciate it, because they recognize that we are all one family and we care about them.”

Otter said he’s had lots of calls asking if the Governor’s Cup golf tournament fundraiser, scheduled for Sept. 5-7 in Sun Valley, would be canceled. “No, we’re not going to cancel it,” he said. “I am going to Sun Valley next Wednesday, and fortunately I’ve got about 650 people that are going to come there as well.”

Idaho’s first lady dislocates shoulder in calf-roping accident

Idaho First Lady Lori Otter dislocated her shoulder in a calf-roping accident and is facing surgery, Gov. Butch Otter announced today.  “For those of you … who asked about Miss Lori, the first lady and I had intention to go out and rope cattle once in a while,” Otter told the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce at the opening of his annual “Address to the Business Community” today at the Boise Centre. “And we were at a rodeo over in Baker, Ore., actually it was a little town called Haines, Ore. … The first lady did dislocate her shoulder. Fortunately, we made it to St. Al’s in Baker.”

Said Otter, “I could not believe how that doctor put her shoulder back in. He put his foot on her armpit, and jerked on that arm. I was thinking medical abuse here, instead of spousal abuse – I couldn’t get away with that.”

Mrs. Otter is recovering, the governor said. “She is going to have to go in and have the shoulder repaired. But she’d been concerned about all my operations, because I got a new left ankle, new right knee, new right hip, both shoulders, and I had some work done on one of my eyes. … I told her even though she’s 23 years younger, I said, you know, one more operation, Lori, and I’m going to be younger than you, with all these new parts.” As the crowd of more than 600 roared with laughter, Otter quipped, “So I think she’s trying to catch up.”

Otter’s press secretary, Jon Hanian, said the accident occurred the weekend before last, on the couple’s anniversary, when the first lady was roping and had just caught the calf over its head with her rope.

Otter endorses ed stakeholders’ task force recommendations

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter today endorsed the sweeping recommendations of his school reform task force, including restoring tens of millions cut from school budgets during Idaho's recession years. “It met every one of my expectations of what we could come out with,” the governor said.

Otter said he's asked his Division of Financial Management to put a price tag on the 21 proposals. “We know it’s going to be roughly $350 million bucks,” he said. “We … know we can’t do that in one year, we can’t do that in two years, or maybe three years. But what we can do is set ourselves on a course that we accomplish so much each year, and … four or five years out, we’ve accomplished the entire package.”

The recommendations include big increases in teacher pay as part of a new 'career ladder;'  advancing students to the next grade only when they've mastered the material;  changing the school funding formula; boosting school technology; raising standards for student achievement; expanding professional development and mentoring for teachers; a new tiered professional licensing structure; and more.

Otter, who spoke about the reforms in response to questions at his annual “Governor’s Address to the Business Community” speech to the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce today, said he met with legislative leaders this morning and discussed the task force recommendations, which were developed by a 31-member panel he appointed to represent all sides in the school reform debate, including both opponents and backers of Idaho’s failed “Students Come First” school reforms; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Idaho insurance exchange goes live on the web with new URL

Idaho’s state health insurance exchange now has a web address: Yourhealthidaho.org. The website was unveiled at a news conference today by Gov. Butch Otter and Idaho exchange executive director Amy Dowd; it’s the site where residents and small businesses can shop for health insurance coverage provided by competing private health insurance companies, with premium costs reduced by federal subsidies; enrollment starts Oct. 1.

“I’m still against Obamacare,” Otter said. “But I recognize we do have an obligation. If Obamacare does happen to go away, it does not absolve us right here in Idaho to do what we can to take care of our own.” You can read our full report here from S-R reporter John Webster.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more than 222,000 Idahoans have no health insurance; many of the uninsured work for small businesses or are self-employed. The Affordable Care Act prohibits insurance companies from declining to issue health insurance because an applicant is sick, prohibits higher rates for those with existing health problems, prohibits lifetime or annual caps on the benefits insurance policies will pay, requires coverage of preventive care without co-pays, and requires standard benefit packages so consumers can make apples-to-apples comparisons when selecting a policy.

Another wildfire impact: Livestock carcasses that could attract scavengers

Gov. Butch Otter noted another impact of the wildfires in Idaho this year: The Elk Complex fire has left behind about 100 head of cattle and 100 head of sheep that were burned up in the wildfire. “Have we notified Fish & Game about those carcasses out there and what may happen?” he asked state Forester David Groeschl, who was briefing the state Land Board this morning about the fire season. Groeschl said he’ll check.

“I think we should, so that they know where those locations are,” Otter said, “because the scavengers will be collecting up, and we don’t need any more disease problems than we’ve already got.” He also said the state should “have a plan to execute salvage as quickly as we can on our acres” that burned, because there’s only a two-year window to salvage burned timber. “We ought to have a plan ready to execute right away,” Otter said. Groeschl said it’s in the works.

Otter: Education is state’s #1 economic priority

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has sent a guest opinion out to Idaho newspapers declaring that education is the state's top economic priority. “We have a variety of incentive programs designed to foster business opportunities in Idaho, but the most important thing we’re able to provide is our people,” the governor writes. “Idahoans are creative, resourceful and hard working – exactly what growing businesses need. But we also need to provide graduates who are prepared. Education is the key to higher-paying jobs. Full story.

Thoughts?

Much wilder fire behavior the ‘new normal’

The wildfires now burning in central Idaho have been moving far faster than last year’s massive Trinity Ridge fire, Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell and Idaho Gov. Butch Otter said today. “The Elk (fire) burned 114,000, 115,000 acres in about six days,” Tidwell said. “So I cannot stress enough about the type of fire behavior that our folks are having to deal with.” He called it a “new normal.”

Otter said by comparison, last year’s Trinity Ridge fire took six weeks to burn between 125,000 and 130,000 acres. Tidwell said, “It’s just what we’re seeing everywhere. Any more, this is becoming the normal type of fire behavior for this time of year.” He added, “Folks are doing an incredible job, our firefighters, men and women.”

Part of the strategy in fighting the fires this year is to drive them back into areas that already burned, where there’s less fuel, including from last year’s Trinity Ridge fire and the 2007 Castle Rock fire near Sun Valley.  

“I really regret the loss of structures that occurred on these fires,” Tidwell said, “and I’m sorry for those folks that have had to evacuate their homes. … People need to leave so that firefighters can do their job to address the fire and not have to worry about people staying behind.”

Said Tidwell, “I’m here in Idaho because these are the highest priority fires today,” but fires also are burning in Oregon, Utah and Montana, he said. “It’s that time of year when things are tight, resources start to get tight, and that’s where the group here that works out of NIFC … makes sure that we’re putting the resources in the right place at the right time so they can be effective.” The AP/Times-News photo above, by Ashley Smith, shows the Beaver Creek fire north of Hailey.

‘There’s a chance’ fire could come into Sun Valley, Ketchum; ‘difficult’ day expected

U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell just announced at the National Interagency Fire Center that the Beaver Creek fire, which is now threatening Sun Valley and Ketchum, has become the nation’s No. 1 top-priority wildfire. “They’re going to make sure they’re going to use their resources and do everything they can to keep that fire from coming any further north,” Tidwell said somberly. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Asked if the fire could come into Sun Valley and Ketchum, Tidwell said, “At this time, there’s a chance, and that’s why they’ve done the pre-evacuation notices. They’re also making sure that if a spot fire gets across Highway 75 that they have the … helicopters ready to be able to quickly jump on a spot. … They’ve also pre-positioned crews right there.”

Said Tidwell, “They’re going to probably have a difficult day today with the fire behavior they expect. … They have a plan and they’re implementing that plan. First thing they’re going to do is make sure they get the people out of the way.” He said, “The fire is close so there isn’t really an opportunity to do a lot of a burning operations in there now.” As weather conditions ease into the evening, he said, back-burns might be possible and are part of the strategy.

Gov. Butch Otter said about 3,500 people have received pre-evacuation orders in the Wood River Valley, including Sen. Michelle Stennett, R-Ketchum. In addition, shortly before noon, the Blaine County Sheriff’s Offices ordered those in mandatory evacuation areas to “GO NOW.” UPDATE: Late this afternoon, the number of mandatory evacuations rose to 1,300.

“Please carry the message back,” Otter told reporters at the National Interagency Fire Center. “If you’re asked to leave, it’s not something that the sheriff or the incident  commanders do just on a whim. If you’re asked to leave, they know that there is a specific threat. Please leave. Those people’s job is to fight fire, not rescue people and evacuate them after they were told to go and they refused to do it.  .. If you’re asked to leave, please get out.”

Added Tidwell, “We’re not going to ask anybody to leave unless there is a real threat.”

Otter, Tidwell touring fire lines, to report this afternoon

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter and U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell are touring the central Idaho wildfires today, and will speak to reporters this afternoon at the National Interagency Fire Center. Their tour includes visiting the fire lines and being briefed on the Elk Complex and the Beaver Creek fire, from which the cities of Sun Valley and Ketchum are now under pre-evacuation orders.

The Blaine County Sheriff's Office issued this alert: "It is recommended that if you do not need to travel north to the Ketchum/Sun Valley area that you avoid doing so." People in the area are being asked to limit their cell phone use to accommodate emergency services, and stay off Highway 75 where possible to accommodate firefighters and evacuees. Those in mandatory evacuation areas, including Baker Creek, Easley, East Fork, Timber Gulch, Golden Eagle, Greenhorn Gulch and Deer Creek from the Big Wood Bridge west, are being advised to "Take your essential belongings and pet and GO NOW." 

Otter: Education is state’s top economic priority

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has sent a  guest opinion out to Idaho newspapers declaring that education is the state's top economic priority. "We have a variety of incentive programs designed to foster business opportunities in Idaho, but the most important thing we’re able to provide is our people," the governor writes. "Idahoans are creative, resourceful and hard working – exactly what growing businesses need. But we also need to provide graduates who are prepared. Education is the key to higher-paying jobs." Click below to read his full article. 

Otter on Labrador: ‘My door has always been open’

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter had this response tonight to Congressman Raul Labrador’s comments about wanting to work with him  on issues now that Labrador has made it clear he’s not planning to challenge Otter in the primary: “My door has always been and will always be open to any member of the delegation and the Legislature.”

Otter was busy this evening with a fundraising dinner and reception for his re-election campaign, after which both he and First Lady Lori Otter rode out in the opening ceremonies of the Caldwell Night Rodeo.

Carlson: Otter Would Kick Raul’s Butt

Columnist Chris Carlson's analysis of the game of chicken being played by Gov. Butch Otter and Congressman Raul Labrador re: 2014 gubernatorial race:

There is a huge bluff game being played and at this point it appears Governor Otter has bluffed Congressman Labrador into thinking he really is running for a third term. Furthermore, the governor appears to have convinced Labrador that in a head-to-head primary he would kick Labrador’s rear. To that end there are rumors Governor Otter is quietly preparing a huge north Idaho fund-raiser that will feature – no, not Tea Party darling and the new Senator from Texas, Ted Cruz – but rather the charismatic governor from New Jersey, Chris Christie. Governor Christie is clearly no favorite of the Tea Party so this has about it an “in your face” message to Labrador. Neither does holding a fund-raiser remove all doubt about the governor’s intentions. He does in fact have a hold-over campaign debt (a loan from himself to his campaign) and the proceeds all could go to paying off the debt to himself. My guess is that if Governor Otter runs, he would crush the overly ambitious congressman. Full column here.

Question: Who would win a GOPrimary race for guv between Otter and Labrador?

Otter forgives campaign loan from self, plus raises $85K over past six months

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has reported raising $215,369 in campaign funds since Jan. 1, spending $163,088, and ending the reporting period with $129,209 in cash on hand. But both the contribution and spending figures are pushed up by the forgiveness of a $131,000 loan Otter earlier made to his campaign; that’s shown as both a contribution from Otter, forgiving the loan, and an expense for the campaign, paying it off. Without that, Otter reported raising $84,369 in campaign contributions in the first six months of the year, with the largest donations $5,000 each from Monsanto Corp., Riley & Associates of Hayden, and rancher Harry Bettis. The spending figure, without the loan repayment, is just $32,088.

The upshot: Otter, who’s said he’ll run for a third term as governor in 2014, raised almost $85,000 in campaign money over the past six months and forgave his own campaign loan, leaving his campaign debt-free with $129,209 in the bank. You can see the full report here.

Meanwhile, while state schools Superintendent Tom Luna says he’s planning to run for a third term, he reported raising only $4,750 in the last six months, with all the donations coming in the final week of the filing period. His biggest donations were $1,000 each from CenturyLink PAC, from Raul Labrador for Idaho, and from Allen Noble. Luna carried over $16,077 from earlier to make an ending cash balance July 1 of $20,827, but also reported $24,500 in outstanding debt, putting his campaign fund in the red. Oddly, that debt amount is reported in Luna’s summary, but not listed in the detail as either new or carried-over debt; his campaign treasurer didn’t immediately return a reporter’s call to explain. Luna reported no campaign spending in the past six months; you can see his full report here.

One-time WiFi money was part of plan to fund stakeholders proposals next year

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on Gov. Butch Otter expressing concerns today about state schools chief Tom Luna signing a multi-year contract for high school WiFi networks based on a one-time appropriation. The $2.25 million appropriation for the wireless networks was part of $34.4 million that the Legislature specifically designated as “one-time” only within the school budget for the coming year, in an effort to accommodate request both from Otter and Luna to set aside $33.9 million to cover recommendations that might arise from a 31-member education stakeholders task force.

But the task force hasn’t made any recommendations yet, and isn’t scheduled to until late summer at the earliest. Its proposals will go to Otter in the fall for consideration for next year’s budget.  So the state Legislature specifically designated that amount within the school budget for the coming year for one-time only projects. That way, it’s zeroed out at the end of the fiscal year, and the governor and lawmakers will have the opportunity to propose different uses for it the following year when the stakeholders task force recommendations are in.

In addition to the $2.25 million for high school wireless networks, the designated one-time funds in the public school budget include $21 million for one-time teacher performance-pay bonuses; $3 million for technology pilot projects; $8 million for school district classroom technology needs; and $150,000 for a web portal of online classes available to Idaho students. The total: $34.4 million. It is the only money in the $1.3 billion school budget that’s designated as one-time only.

Otter on WiFi contract: ‘Not necessarily how I would have done it’

Gov. Butch Otter issued a statement today on the controversial, 5- to 15-year high school WiFi contract signed last week by state schools Superintendent Tom Luna, saying, “It’s not necessarily how I would have done it.” If the contract were to run its full 15 years, it will cost the state $33.3 million. Here is Otter’s full statement:

“I have been and will continue to be supportive of technology in the classroom. I understand and I agree with the concerns people have expressed over the contract, particularly the character of the money being utilized (one-time funds relative to the on-going obligation). The contract is signed and issues specific to it should be taken up with the Superintendent and the State Department of Education.  It’s not necessarily how I would have done it.  Going forward I intend to work with Superintendent Luna and the Legislature as we continue to look at ways to improve education in Idaho.”

Edit: Otter Wise To Protect Surplus

Mow, hoe, trim and water. That's Rep. Maxine Bell's routine during the summer at her home in Jerome. It also describes her role as a co-chair of the Legislature's budgeting committee - with a lot of whacking and slashing thrown into the mix. In recent years, the slashing has gone through the summer with holdbacks, or the threat of holdbacks. That's not the case this year, which makes Bell and others involved in budgeting rest easier these hot summer days. Thanks to an improved revenue picture, Idaho at long last has some predictability and stability in state government and there will not be a holdback this year. "That's a relief," Bell said. "At the end of every session, we can only hope that we did our job well enough to avoid a midyear budget holdback"/Idaho Statesman Editorial Board. More here.

Question: What do you think the state should do with its $92.5 million budget surplus?


Read more here: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2013/07/23/2666600/how-does-your-budget-grow.html#storylink=cpy

Otter Still Has Hots For Gun Makers

Idaho wants gun and ammo makers. Gov. Butch Otter did his best to roll out the welcome mat in May when he announced the state was courting 79 gun and ammo makers to relocate part or all of their operations to Idaho. Commerce Director Jeff Sayer continued beating the drum Wednesday while speaking at an Idaho Firearms and Accessories Manufacturers Association forum in Boise. "One of Idaho’s strengths is the Rocky Mountains are in our backyard," Sayer said. "There’s no reason we can’t make what Idaho is known for as one of our core business strengths. Meshing (the outdoors) with the firearm industry is a perfect fit"/Zach Kyle, Idaho Statesman. More here.

Question: Should Otter be pursuing gun manufacturers?


Read more here: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2013/07/17/2658654/commerce-head-courts-firearms.html?utm_medium=referral&utm_source=t.co#storylink=cpy

Idaho closes fiscal year with surplus, puts $85M more into rainy-day fund

Idaho’s state tax revenue came in 6.5 percent ahead of forecast in June, closing out the fiscal year with a $92.5 million surplus over the $2.658 billion the state had expected to take in for the year. That’s 3.5 percent; it’s a 6.3 percent increase from the previous fiscal year.

The higher-than-predicted tax revenues also triggered legislation sought by Gov. Butch Otter this year to transfer $85.4 million of the year-end balance into the state’s main savings account, the Budget Stabilization Fund. That boosts the total in the account to more than $135 million, a move Otter lauded today.

“Don’t get the idea that we’re flush just because we ended the budget year with a few extra bucks,” Otter declared. “We have plenty of needs and plenty of priorities. But the best way to ensure economic stability and continued growth is to remain prudent, cautious and responsible in how we allocate every one of those taxpayer dollars.”

The state’s surplus comes as agencies continue to struggle with years of budget cuts that haven’t been restored, and school districts across the state have increasingly sought local property tax hikes to make up shortfalls in state funding.

Otter’s office said in a statement that the year-end results “show the wisdom of his shared commitment with the Legislature to ensuring government does not grow as fast as Idaho’s economy and to continue refilling the state’s various rainy day funds,” adding, “That’s especially true in light of continuing uncertainty about the federal budget, federal fiscal policies and their impact on economic recovery.” You can read the General Fund Revenue Report here.  Click below for a report from AP reporter John MIller, who notes that this makes the third straight year state tax revenues have exceeded forecasts, and that every category of collections, from sales taxes on retail goods to personal and corporate income taxes, came in at levels higher than originally estimated last year.

Might Boise School Board member A.J. Balukoff run for governor?

Might A.J. Balukoff, longtime Boise School Board member, run for governor of Idaho as a Democrat in 2014? Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News explores the possibility on his blog today; you can read his full post here. Balukoff told Richert he’s being urged to run, and is considering it, but hasn’t decided. “I will continue to talk with people I trust and respect as I consider whether to run for governor,” Balukoff told Idaho EdNews. “I will decide whether I can devote the time and energy to a statewide campaign, and if I can mount a financially viable campaign. I will make a decision by the end of the year.”

Balukoff, a retired CPA and community volunteer, has served on the Boise School Board since 1997; the board came out strongly against the voter-rejected “Students Come First” school reform laws pushed by state schools Superintendent Tom Luna and backed by GOP Gov. Butch Otter. Balukoff said he’s considering the run “because education is so important to me.”

Balukoff holds an accounting degree from BYU. He’s lived in Boise since 1982, where he’s operated a large CPA firm and a chain of athletic clubs. He’s now part of the ownership groups of the Grove Hotel, the Idaho Steelheads hockey team, Century Link Arena, downtown office buildings and more. A former Eagle Scout and scout leader and official, he serves on the boards of the Boise Public Library, St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center, the Esther Simplot Performing Arts Academy, and Ballet Idaho, and is the former bishop of his LDS church ward. He and his wife Susie have eight children and 26 grandchildren.

Otter films ads promoting fire safety, forest thinning

In a new public service TV ad sponsored by the state Department of Lands and the U.S. Forest Service, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter is shown on a ladder raking pine needles off the roof of his Pine, Idaho cabin, standing on a porch roof pruning low-hanging branches, and more as he urges Idahoans who live in the wildland-urban interface to “get defensive” and reduce wildfire risk to their homes. “Join me in being firewise,” the governor says in the ad. “Learn more at idahofirewise.org.” That website, sponsored by an array of agencies and organizations, is aimed at educating Idahoans about wildfire and promoting “firewise communities.”

The ad was filmed at Otter’s cabin, in an area that was threatened by last summer’s massive Trinity Ridge Fire. Jon Hanian, Otter's press secretary, who was at the filming, said the 71-year-old governor seemed at-ease with the feats he performed, "although he did admit he doesn't like heights." Hanian said, "He was comfortable - I wasn't. It made me nervous."

A second ad, which shows a cowboy-hatted, shiny-belt-buckled Otter standing in the forest, advocates more thinning projects in national forests, saying, “From a distance, national forests may look beautiful, but 15 million acres of federal forests in Idaho are overgrown, unhealthy and prone to catastrophic fire. Widfires threaten lives, destroy property and cost taxpayers billions of dollars. They pollute the air we breathe and the water we drink, and they harm wildlife habitat. Reducing fuels is the ONLY thing we can do to change all that. It’s time to thin the threat. Show your support. Learn more at idahoforests.org.”

That’s the website of the Idaho Forest Products Commission, which sponsored the second spot. Both ads are being offered to Idaho TV and radio stations to run during the fire season, to promote wildfire safety and prevention. “Idaho’s fire seasons are getting worse,” Otter said in a statement.  “The PSAs remind Idahoans this is the time to reduce the threat of wildfire by getting defensive about their properties and supporting thinning in dense, overcrowded national forests.” You can see both ads here, under the heading, "For the Media and the Public."

Otter announces appointees to new state Oil & Gas Commission

A mayor from North Idaho, a farmer from eastern Idaho, a retired CPA and a petroleum engineer from Boise and a rancher from Weiser are Gov. Butch Otter's picks for the state's new Oil & Gas Conservation Commission, which will oversee Idaho's small but fast-growing oil and gas industry; previously, the commission providing that oversight consisted of members of the state Land Board, the five top state elected officials. Legislation passed this year provided for the new commission. The five appointees are subject to confirmation by the Idaho Senate; click below for Otter's full announcement. 

Otter takes on Obama

— Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter has criticized President Barack Obama's administration for seeking to limit coal-fired power plant emissions while not allowing sufficient timber cutting to tame big western wildfires, another greenhouse gas source.

Otter told reporters at a Western Governors' Association meeting in Park City, Utah, on Sunday that Idaho wildfires release more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than is released during the production of coal-generated electricity for Idaho's 1.5 million residents.

The Republican governor's numbers may be technically correct, but some scientists say the link was misleading because it focused on a single, sparsely populated state with large swaths of range and timberland that burn annually. More here. John Miller, AP

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