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Otter opts for state-run health insurance exchange

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter announced today that he's notifying the federal government that Idaho will opt for a state-run health insurance exchange, subject to legislative approval. “This is not a battle of my choosing, but no one has fought harder against the mandates and overreaching federal authority of the Affordable Care Ac,” the governor said in a statement. “No one has more consistently and clearly demanded that Idaho retain the authority and flexibility to chart our own path forward. There was a judicial process for challenging Obamacare, and the presidential election was at least in part a referendum on its enactment. But despite our best efforts, the law remains in place, and almost certainly will for the foreseeable future. There will be a health insurance exchange in Idaho. The only question is who will build it.”

He added, “Our options have come down to this: Do nothing and be at the federal government’s mercy in how that exchange is designed and run, or take a seat at the table and play the cards we’ve been dealt. I cannot willingly surrender a role for Idaho in determining the impact on our own citizens and businesses.” Click below for his full announcement, including a Q-and-A about the decision.

Idaho school funding back in spotlight

Last week, Gov. Butch Otter told a crowd of more than 400 people that Idaho is “probably not” meeting the state Constitution's requirements to provide for education. 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.

Asking the question of the governor was his former longtime chief economist, Mike Ferguson, who now heads the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy. Ferguson has sent out an op-ed piece to Idaho newspapers, headed, “Election Over, Now It's Time To Focus On Resources,” exploring the issue of school funding in the wake of the failure of the school reform propositions on the November ballot. “Two critically important issues need to be factored into this discussion: How much of our financial resources are we devoting to the education of our children, and how are we allocating those resources among those children?” Ferguson asks.

His conclusion to the first question is that the Idaho is spending less and less on public education, falling from 4.4 percent of personal income in 2000 to 3.5 percent this year - a 20 percent decline. He also raises questions about the distribution of Idaho's state school funds with regard to equity; click below to read his full article. You can read my Sunday column here at spokesman.com.

Gov. Otter: State ‘probably not’ meeting constitutional standard for education

When Gov. Butch Otter asked for questions at the end of his luncheon speech to the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho today, the first one came from former longtime state chief economist Mike Ferguson. “Do you believe that the state of Idaho is maintaining a general, uniform and thorough system of public education?” 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, vs. more urban ones. Otter also said he thought the Idaho Education Network was helping with that, by offering distance education to remote rural districts.

“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.

Otter: Health insurance exchange choice won’t please everyone

Gov. Butch Otter noted today that a decision on whether to start a state-run health insurance exchange or not will have to be made shortly. “There's some decisions that are going to have to be made between now and the 14th of December that are going to have a lot of impact on that session,” he said of the upcoming legislative session. “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 complained about continued changes in federal rules regarding the exchange. “Every time we're at a point where we think we're going to make a decision on it, then we get another set of rules and regulations that changes the dynamic of what we thought we were dealing with.” 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.”

Otter asks stakeholder group to look into why Props 1, 2 and 3 failed, what can be salvaged

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter said today that he's asked the State Board of Education to head up a 33-member stakeholder group to look at parts of the failed school reform referenda that should perhaps be salvaged. “I believe we're going to have in this legislative session a revisit of Props 1, 2, and 3 or parts and pieces thereof,” Otter told the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho. “We lost. I'm not one that's going to go around and shoot the wounded. … The rejection was pretty obvious. But I do believe that we will see … parts and pieces of all those come back at us.”

Otter said he's asking the group to look at “exactly why they failed where we think they should have passed, and where we failed in our construction efforts” in putting together the laws. “We will be providing that kind of information as well to the Legislature and to the leadership group, so it will be an ongoing process,” Otter said, one that might not finish this year.

Otter declines to confer with empty chair, draws laugh…

An empty chair stood next to Gov. Butch Otter as he spoke today to the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho. “I apologize for this chair up here,” Otter told the crowd. “The lieutenant governor asked me if I was going to pull a Clint Eastwood, and I said, 'I was there - I don't think so.” His comment drew a laugh.

Otter challenges counties to identify local government services they’d eliminate

Gov. Butch Otter, in his luncheon address to the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho today, challenged county commissioners to bring him a list of state-mandated services they provide that they'd like to do away with. “I'd be remiss if I didn't open the floor to the question of what are we going to do about personal property taxes,” including proposals to eliminate them. “I've made no mystery of the fact that I've been a supporter of that,” Otter said, “but I also understand how 44 counties … the question is always what are you going to do with that share of our budget which we get in our counties from personal property tax, and I said frankly I don't know.” He said, “I want to engage in those discussions.”

He said the budget will be challenging in the upcoming legislative session, and the latest tax revenue figures are forcing a downward revision in projections. “I will tell you we do not have a placeholder for $130 million in that budget,” to offset elimination of the personal property tax. “We will have those discusssions, and I hope that we can come up with a plan. … I understand the plight of the counties, when it represents in some counties upwards of 35 percent of their budget.”

Otter said two years ago, he asked for a list of “those things which you think you can do without in your county that we mandated, and I'll be your champion to get rid of those services, to stop those services and to relieve you from that financial burden, because I understand that. But I have yet to see the list.”

Edit: Butch’s Legacy Is Awfully Thin

Idaho Gov. C.L. (Butch) Otter has six years in office under his belt and two more to go. But what does he have to show for it? To say he has the thinnest legacy since Gov. (Big) Don Samuelson would be taking an unfair poke at Samuelson. Idaho's 25th governor, Samuelson served from 1967 to 1971. He generally rates near the least successful governors. He was a terrible public speaker. He suffered comparisons to his predecessor, Robert Smylie, and his successor, Cecil Andrus. And the voters denied him a second term. By contrast, Otter is an exceptional retail politician who has won three terms in Congress, two as governor and could have a third for the asking. But in terms of governing, Samuelson's record is not insignificant/Marty Trillhaase, Lewiston Tribune. More here. (AP file photo of Butch Otter at the end of 2012 Legislature)

Question: What has Butch Otter accomplished in his 6 years as governor?

Otter delays insurance exchange decision

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has decided to delay a decision on how to proceed on a health insurance exchange in Idaho, now that HHS chief Kathleen Sibelius has agreed to give governors more time; a decision had been due today, but now the deadline has been pushed back to December. Click below for Otter's full announcement.

“I have my working group’s recommendation, and I have been listening carefully to stakeholders and citizens about this important choice,” Otter said. “This extension gives us more time to get answers from HHS about what the federal requirements will be.” Otter noted that he consulted with other GOP governors at a Republican Governors Association meeting in Las Vegas this week from which he just returned today. “I don’t want us buying a pig in a poke,” he said, “so with this extension I’m hoping we’ll get answers to the questions and concerns we’re hearing from legislators and the public.”

HHS gives states more time on health insurance exchanges, not clear if Otter will decide tomorrow or delay…

In response to a request from the Republican Governors Association, U.S. Secretary of Health & Human Services Kathleen Sibelius has sent out a letter giving governors extra time to make their decisions on how to proceed on health insurance exchanges - a decision for which the deadline was looming tomorrow. Last week, Sibelius gave governors until December to file the “blueprint” that will flesh out the details of the decision, but didn't move the Nov. 16 deadline for a “letter of intent” declaring the state's decision. If states don't opt to set up their own, state-based exchanges or enter partnerships with the federal government, the feds will take over and operate the exchange for those states.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has been considering the decision, and convened a working group that studied the issue for months, then recommended overwhelmingly that the state go with a state-based exchange operated by a private non-profit. Otter is at the RGA meeting in Las Vegas today, where the issue was among the discussion topics, and his office just received Sibelius' letter late this afternoon. Otter's press secretary, Jon Hanian, said, “I think over the next 24 hours you should know whether or not we're going to make some decision tomorrow or take additional time.” You can read Sibelius' letter here.

ICAN calls for Medicaid expansion, says it’ll save money and save lives

The Idaho Community Action Network, a statewide non-profit advocacy group with more than 2,000 members, issued a report today calling strongly for Idaho to expand its Medicaid program to cover the working poor. That also was the unanimous recommendation of a 14-member working group appointed by Gov. Butch Otter, which studied the issue for months.

“It's the right choice for Idaho - it's going to save us money, and it's going to save lives,” said Terri Sterling, the group's organizing director. “When you think about the families this is impacting right now, it's very sad across the state. … I have interviewed lots of these families, and it's so heartbreaking and heart-wrenching to hear some of these stories.”

ICAN's report, “Invest in a Healthy Idaho,” calls a Medicaid expansion “a prescription for ending the drain on state and county resources and creating financial stability for Idaho's patients.” It highlights the stories of several Idahoans who lack health insurance, including Aaron Howington, who works, but much of his income goes to child support payments; he lives in a camper in the back of his pickup truck, can't afford health insurance and makes too much to qualify for Medicaid. “Without good health, I may not be able to continue working,” he said. “I don't know what I would do then. The Medicaid expansion would allow me to get the care that I need to stay healthy and keep my job.”

States have the option of expanding Medicaid, the state-federal program that provides health insurance to the poor and disabled, to cover the working poor under the national health care reform law, largely at federal expense; a decision from Otter and state lawmakers on which way to go is pending.  In Idaho, an expansion would save the state hundreds of millions over the coming years, because the state currently covers the catastrophic medical bills of indigent residents entirely with county property taxes and state general funds.

Kelly Anderson of Boise said she hopes the state chooses expansion. “Right now I have several bills that are in collection due to not having insurance and needing medical care,” she said. “Once they expand the Medicaid and cover people that aren't covered, I think you'll see a whole lot less emergency room visits that don't get paid for because people can't afford them, and I think you'll see a healthier country.” Said Alecia Clements, an ICAN state board member, “I have good insurance, thanks to God, but a lot of Idahoans don't.” If Idaho doesn't expand the program, she said, “It's going to cost us anyway, even more - I hope that our legislators understand that.”

ICAN was formed in 1999 through a merger of the Idaho Citizens Network, a citizens' advocacy group focusing on the concerns of low-income residents, and the Idaho Hunger Action Council.

Otter reaches out to ‘Students Come First’ opponents, sets meeting with IEA leaders

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter is reaching out to the opponents of the failed “Students Come First” school reform laws, including the leaders of the Idaho Education Association; they've been invited to an initial meeting with the governor's staff tomorrow. “I can confirm there is going to be a meeting,” said Jon Hanian, Otter's press secretary. Otter won't be there himself, as he's attending a Republican Governors Association meeting in Las Vegas today through Thursday at which governors are discussing their options on health care reform in the wake of last week's election, but Otter will be represented at tomorrow's meeting by his senior special assistant on education, Roger Brown.

“This isn't about a specific bill or piece of legislation - it's about a conversation and developing a road map on how we can continue improving our education system,” Hanian said. “This will be the first formal meeting since the election. We started reaching out to them last week.” Hanian said the governor plans to reach out to all stakeholders on school improvement, after the overwhelming voter rejection last week of Propositions 1, 2 and 3. “The people spoke,” Hanian said, as far as those measures. “We need to continue discussion about improving our education system in the state.”

Working group is unanimous: Expand Medicaid in Idaho

Corey Surber, chair of the governor's Medicaid expansion working group, said, “At this point I'm sensing consensus, but I'd like to do one more check.” She asked working group members, if they didn't agree with Option 3 - expand Medicaid - with the identified caveats about benefit design, personal accountability and the like - to turn on their microphone lights. None did. That means it's unanimous - the group is backing Medicaid expansion for Idaho.

Still to be finalized is the group's formal report to Gov. Butch Otter, which will be word-smithed and completed over the next few days. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Working group: ‘An opportunity to shape a new health care system’

Here are some of the working group members' comments as they debate options for Medicaid expansion in Idaho:

Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, said, “This would be good for our people in Idaho. But we also …  don't know what the future's going to hold, and we don't know what the federal government is going to  do with its $16 trillion deficit and the fact that they're going to be putting bigger burdens on the states.” She said, “I'm not quite there totally. I know it's good for Idaho, but I'm very concerned about what this burden is going to place upon our people.”

Dr. Ted Epperly said he's “strongly in favor” of expanding Medicaid in Idaho. “Really what we have an opportunity to do here is shape a new health care system and a new insurance program. … I love a benefit redesign that really puts a lot of personal accountability and incentivization onto patients for their health.” He added, “I think we need to focus on what we can control, and what we can control is what we do here in Idaho with this program. … It's a real opportunity for us.”

Dan Chadwick of the Idaho Association of Counties said, “The CAT program, the county indigent program, has run its course. It's time for it to end in this state because it has not done its work. It's becoming financially and administratively unsustainable.”

Tom Faulkner said Idaho's now paying 100 percent of the costs for health care for the working poor from its state general fund and from county property taxpayers. “If we could have 90 percent to 100 percent of that paid by the federal government, why wouldn't we do it?”

Beth Gray said, “The data that's been presented today seems to me to be overwhelmingly compelling.”


  

Working group debates Medicaid expansion options…

Gov. Butch Otter's Medicaid expansion working group is now considering what recommendation to make to Otter. Member Mike Baker spoke out in favor of expansion. “There's financial benefits, there's the opportunity to do something right here,” he said. “From the state perspective, you look at the numbers, you look at the things we've learned through these discussions, and I think it's great - a great opportunity for us to put together a different model.” He said he hoped Idaho could develop an appropriate benefit plan that would fit the state and the targeted population, and provide the appropriate incentives.

Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, said he's concerned about “how to control costs and how to bring the best medical care at the cheapest cost to patients in that population. And that we do get away from the perverse incentives in the American health care industry that are going on today, we get away from fee for service medicine, we get away from the old traditional managed-care concept.  We actually have to get a system whereby the consumers and the providers … actually own the system, as opposed to feeding off the system. If we're going to go down that road, then I can wholeheartedly endorse the concept.” But, he said, “If we're going to just have another entitlement program … then no, you don't have my support, nor do I think you'll have the Legislature's support.” Said Wood, “We aren't just signing a blank check. That's not what we're about. We're about doing it right or we're not going to do it.”

Consultant: Long-term analysis shows big savings if Idaho expands Medicaid

Gov. Butch Otter's Medicaid expansion working group is receiving a report from consulting group  Milliman this morning on the potential impacts to the state. “On a purely financial basis, it would make sense to expand,” Justin Birrell of Milliman told the working group. “You save $6.5 million if you expand. It would cost you $284 million if you don't.” That's over a 10-1/2 year period starting in the second half of state fiscal year 2014. Added the firm's Ben Diederich, “The state and local offsets are what's very unique to Idaho.”

That's because of how Idaho currently funds health care for the indigent; through the state's medical indigency/Catastrophic Health Care program, the money comes entirely from the state general fund and from local property tax money. This afternoon, the working group is scheduled to decide on its recommendation to Otter on what the state should do; under the national health care reform law, states have the option of expanding their Medicaid programs largely at federal expense.

Otter: ‘We’re prepared to sit down and find a path forward with all the stakeholders’

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter spoke with reporters this afternoon about the election results, and he said the call from “Students Come First” opponents to begin new talks with all stakeholders about school reform is “exactly what I want to do.”

“I think the interest that was shown on both sides, and what we heard on both sides, gives us a good opportunity to start developing, with everybody, a concurrent plan that we can go forward with,” Otter said. “I think everybody does realize, whether they voted for or against the propositions, that our old education system is simply not working. We're not graduating students in many cases that are ready for college, not ready for the wonderful world of work or careers. … I talked to some of the leadership this morning and we're prepared to sit down and find a path forward with all of the stakeholders.”

Otter said he'd be opposed to trying to just re-pass the same laws the voters have rejected. “That isn't a course that I think is positive, that isn't a course that I think would be productive,” he said. “I do think what we need to do is take each prop, each idea of reform, and sit down and say, 'What did you like about it? What didn't you like about it? If you had a chance to change it, how would you change it?' And those things that we can agree on, and each and every one of those … is what we ought to go forward with.”

Unlike Otter, Luna didn't talk to the press today. Asked about Luna's sentiments, Otter said, “I sense that he believes this is a new beginning on education reform, and that we're going to have to go forward.”

The governor said, “There is something we ought to be celebrating today, and that is the big turnout that we had in Idaho. … But we also need to celebrate the independence of the Idaho voter. The Idaho voter isn't going to be led anyplace without some rational thought on their own, without some investigation on their own. I have been the benefactor of that, and in some cases I haven't benefited so much from it. But I still love the independence, and I celebrate their independence today.”

He added, “I want to concentrate right now on the path forward. I want to vet that through the (legislative) leadership, say what can we accomplish, and how quick  can we accomplish that, and who do we have to have in the room to accomplish it.”

Otter on school reform: ‘The public conversation isn’t over, it’s only begun’

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter issued this statement today on the voters' rejection of Propositions 1, 2, and 3, the “Students Come First” school reform measures:

“The people have spoken, so I’m not discouraged. That’s how our system works. But it’s important to remember that the public conversation that began almost two years ago isn’t over – it’s only begun. Our workforce, our communities and most of all our students still deserve better, and our resources are still limited. We offered these reforms not because we sought change for change’s sake, but because change is needed to afford our young people the opportunities they deserve now and for decades to come. That’s as true today as it was yesterday, so our work for a brighter and better future continues.”

Ad Watch: Latest school reform commercial echoes earlier one

The latest TV commercial in favor of Propositions 1, 2 and 3 comes from “Yes for Idaho Education,” and features a message strikingly similar to that in a September statewide ad from “Parents for Education Reform.” The look is different, with video of teachers and kids in class, and there's different music, but the message is the same; it pulls out a feel-good item from each of the three complex measures and touts it as what the propositions will do. It does add in a jab at the “national teachers union” that was missing from the earlier ad. “It is essentially the same general positive message we’ve had in initial TV, in radio ads, and on our direct mail absentee chase,” said Ken Burgess, spokesman for the “Yes” campaign.

Click below to compare the wording of the new “Yes” ad and the previous ad from PFER, which was the group that placed the ads funded by secret contributions to Education Voters of Idaho; you can read my fact-check story here from Sept. 28, which was headed, “Ad touting school reforms tells just part of story.”

The  new “Yes” ad is running only in the Boise, Twin Falls, and Idaho Falls/Pocatello markets, Burgess said, adding, “We've left the Gov. Otter ad in place for our full run in Spokane.”

Ad Watch: Otter steps forward in latest school reform ad

The latest campaign ad in Idaho's school reform fight features Gov. Butch Otter endorsing Propositions 1, 2 and 3 in a positive, feel-good message. “Education in Idaho is at a crossroads,” the casually dressed governor says in the commercial, which is running statewide, including in the Spokane-Coeur d'Alene market. “This election year we're being asked whether we will keep meaningful education reforms on the books or go back to the old way of doing things.”

The “old way of doing things” refers to Idaho's laws prior to 2011, when lawmakers enacted the reforms that restricted teachers' collective bargaining rights, imposed a new merit-pay bonus system, and required big technology boosts including laptop computers for high school students and a new focus on online learning. “It paints the opposition as being reactionaries, going back to the old ways, which is kind of funny,” said Jim Weatherby, emeritus professor of public policy at Boise State University. “It's a pretty positive message.”

The ad is sponsored by “Yes for Idaho Education,” the official campaign group backing the three measures. Opponents of the laws collected thousands of signatures to force a voter referendum on the laws; a yes vote would keep them, while a no vote would repeal them. Ken Burgess, spokesman for the Yes campaign, said the idea behind the ad was partly to defuse ire aimed against state Superintendent Tom Luna, the author of the laws. “All this issue about these things being called the 'Luna laws' - we just want to remind everybody from a leadership, statesman standpoint that the governor was as much responsible for this stuff certainly as Tom Luna,” Burgess said.  You can read my full story here at spokesman.com, examining the claims in the ad.

Otter: First Lady Asked For Donation

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter says it wasn't him who asked New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to donate to Idaho's school-reform fight — it was First Lady Lori Otter. “The first lady was the one that talked to Mike's organization,” Otter said today, before judging a children's Halloween costume contest on the state Capitol steps. “You know, we got to know Mike pretty well, going up to the, Herb Allen has his gathering up in Sun Valley, and so every year we've gone up, we've ran into Mike, and had an opportunity to kind of get to know each other. He's been interested in education, and Lori I think was telling him about it while we were up there, and he said, 'Give me a call, I'll see if I can help you.'”/Betsy Russell, Eye on Boise. More here. (AP file photo of Lori Otter & governor snuggling at a Republican victory party)

Question: Did Butch throw Lori under the bus?

Otter: First lady asked NY mayor Bloomberg to donate to Idaho campaign group

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter says it wasn't him who asked New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to donate to Idaho's school-reform fight - it was First Lady Lori Otter. “The first lady was the one that talked to Mike's organization,” Otter said today, before judging a children's Halloween costume contest on the state Capitol steps. “You know, we got to know Mike pretty well, going up to the, Herb Allen has his gathering up in Sun Valley, and so every year we've gone up, we've ran into Mike, and had an opportunity to kind of get to know each other. He's been interested in education, and Lori I think was telling him about it while we were up there, and he said, 'Give me a call, I'll see if I can help you,' or give his organization a call, I should say, and he'd see if he could help us.” Bloomberg donated $200,000 to the secret-donations group Education Voters of Idaho, which today revealed its donors under a court order.

Otter said he was the one who made the pitch to Albertson's heir Joe Scott, who anted up $250,000. “And he was very gracious,” Otter said. “But he wanted everybody to know and to make sure that it was him personally,” as opposed to the J.A. & Kathryn Albertson Foundation. Both Otter and the first lady today were dressed in costumes consisting of academic caps and gowns, with the foundation's “Go On” slogan festooned on them, urging kids to go on to higher ed after college.

Otter said he did participate in a fundraiser for the school-reform campaign at the Republican National Convention that featured Jeb Bush. He asked how much EVI reported today that it had raised overall, and seemed pleased with the $641,000 figure, saying, “OK, good!”


The group was presented by its chair, Debbie Field, and co-executive director, John Foster, as a way to provide a voice for parents in the debate, but its donor list is heavy on businesses and organizations and out-of-state wealthy folks. “As far as corporations, those other organizations, remember they all have employees, and those employees have kids,” Otter said. “And they also want to look forward to tomorrow's workforce, and they know that a good education is an important part of that.”

Otter said he was fine with the donors being disclosed. “I think, look, that's the law,” he said. “No matter where you organize the organization … they've got to obey our laws. And that has been my position all along.”
  

Guv, first lady to host kids for Capitol trick-or-treating on Wednesday

Gov. Butch Otter and First Lady Lori Otter will host a free “Trick or Treat” party for children at the state Capitol on Wednesday, with trick-or-treating from 3:30 to 6 p.m. and a costume contest at 5:30. Prizes will be awarded for the best costume portraying an Idaho historical figure, a book or movie character, the scariest, and the most creative; click below for more information. The first lady also will hand out copies of her her children's book, “Ida Visits the Capitol.”

Otter Dedicates Dover Bridge

In this April 2008 SR file photo, the old Dover Bridge is seen in a rear-view mirror.  Looks like the ITD board is The North Idaho bridge received national attention as one of the worst in the country. Now it has been replaced. (SR file photo: Kathy Plonka)

The new Dover Bridge was dedicated this morning. Here's the story from this morning's Bonner County Daily Bee:Governor Butch Otter and other officials will be on hand today for a dedication ceremony for the new U.S. Highway 2 bridge in Dover. The ceremony starts at 11 a.m. beneath the bridge. Signs will be posted for parking and dedication site location. Dover’s Depression-era truss bridge was replaced a 72-foot-wide steel structure with no overhead encumbrances. The highway has been realigned and includes improved access into the city and a bicycle/pedestrian trail, the Idaho Transportation Department said. The project accommodates future expansion of U.S. 2 west of the bridge spanning the Union Pacific railroad to Rocky Point east of the bridge.” More here.

Otter: A ‘big day’ with Idaho company successful bidder for laptop contract

Gov. Butch Otter called this a “big day,” announcing that Hewlett-Packard Corp. has been named the successful bidder to supply laptop computers to Idaho high school students. “It's a proud moment for me,” Otter said, “that we had an Idaho company that was the successful bidder and that will lead us into that 21st Century classroom.”
  

Otter, Luna, HP officials gather at HP to announce ‘major partnership’ on laptop contract

Three Hewlett-Packard laptop computers are lined up next to a stack of battered textbooks, binders and a calculator today in a conference room at Hewlett-Packard Corp., where Gov. Butch Otter and state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna are gathered along with dignitaries for the announcement of a “major partnership between HP and the State of Idaho:” HP has been selected as the vendor for student laptops under the “Students Come First” technology program.

On the big screen behind the laptops is the logo for Students Come First, Luna's reform program that calls for supplying every Idaho high school student and teacher with a laptop computer. The state has been in the final stages of negotiating an eight-year, $100 million-plus contract to supply the laptops.

Wrestling with options for Idaho under health care reform…

The Idaho Legislature's Health Care Task Force, a joint committee of 14 senators and representatives, is hearing updates this morning on the progress of two working groups looking into how Idaho should proceed under the national health care reform law on two fronts: A health insurance exchange, and expansion of Medicaid. State Insurance Director Bill Deal told the lawmakers that the exchange working group will hold its final meeting this Friday, and will settle on its report and recommendations to Gov. Butch Otter on how to proceed.

State Health & Welfare Director Dick Armstrong told the task force that the Medicaid expansion working group is working through three options: Don't expand Medicaid and keep Idaho's current medical indigency/catastrophic health care fund as-is; don't expand Medicaid and revise the CAT fund system; or expand Medicaid. The no-change option would lead to very fast-growing costs both for the state and for county property taxpayers, Armstrong said. Forecasts show county costs would rise from $29.6 million a year today to $39.6 million a year in 2020, and state costs to the state's general fund from $39 million this year to $52.5 million in 2020.

Revising the CAT program likely would save only about 2 percent on costs, he said, with a new, standardized claims-processing system costing between $1.5 million and $3.5 million. Medicaid expansion, combined with other expected increases in Medicaid, would push Idaho's Medicaid program from the current 229,000 participants to an estimated 453,000 in 2020. Costs would be almost entirely borne by the federal government, though Armstrong warned that that could change in the future if federal policies change.

Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, said the three options don't include one he's been hearing questions about when he goes door-to-door campaigning for re-election: Don't expand Medicaid and eliminate the CAT program, and just say Idaho won't pay for indigent people's medical costs. “Could the state of Idaho just say we're not going to pay for indigent health care?” Schmidt asked. “People argue that that's something we should consider.”

Armstrong responded, “Well, then the bad debt would fall on the hospitals and the providers. My first-blush guess is all of us that pay for our own hospital care through insurance, that difference would be immediately transferred. It would be an immediate cost shift to anybody and everybody that's paying for health care - they would have no choice.” He added, “It would mean all of the dollars would then end up moving to another pocket.”

Otter to bring ‘Capitol for a Day’ to tiny Pine, Idaho

Gov. Butch Otter has announced that he'll hold his next “Capitol for a Day” event in Pine a week from Friday. That's the same tiny town where Otter has a cabin, and that faced evacuation this summer, along with nearby Featherville, due to the Trinity Ridge wildfire.

“Pine is the kind of place where people from the city go to get away from crowds and breathe fresh air,” Otter said, “Now, wildfires have made it a lot busier and smokier than any of us would like this year. And for some of us, that’s more than an inconvenience, because Pine is home. I’m looking forward to hearing from my neighbors about the issues that matter most to them, and to letting them know their community and the independence it represents are important parts of the Idaho way of life.”

Otter will be at the Pine Senior Center on Oct. 19 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., including a noon luncheon with local officials and residents; among those accompanying him will be the state's directors of Fish & Game, Parks & Recreation, Insurance, Homeland Security, and Species Conservation, along with Lt. Gov. Brad Little and officials from the departments of Agriculture, Health & Welfare and Transportation.

Otter's been holding the events monthly, and has already held 59, including at least one in each of Idaho's 44 counties; his goal is to get to every county twice before he completes his current term.  Many have been in similarly small towns around the state; last month, he was in Nordman, on Priest Lake.

Otter Pal Raises $200K For Props 1-3

Debbie Field, Gov. Butch Otter's former drug czar and two-time campaign manager, has raised $200,350 from a single source and spent it on broadcast ads supporting Propositions 1, 2 and 3, also known as “Students Come First” and “The Luna Laws.” Field heads a new group, Parents for Education Reform, which filed its Sunshine report Tuesday, a day before the deadline for finance reports covering the period May 26 to Sept. 30. The new political action committee's treasurer is Cordell Chigbrow, who also is Otter's treasurer. All but $32 of the $200,350 raised was paid to Sandler-Innocenzi Inc., for broadcast advertising, which includes radio, TV and internet spots/Dan Popkey, Idaho Statesman. More here.

Question: Why is Gov. Otter and his followers so sold out to the Luna Laws?

Otter calls for more logging, grazing on public land to prevent wildfire

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has sent out a guest opinion to Idaho newspapers this afternoon, blaming federal land management policies for this year's destructive wildfires and calling for change. Otter says the answer is more logging and grazing to reduce flammable fuels on federal lands.Despite the best efforts of our congressional delegation, Idahoans and all Americans will continue paying in many ways for the lack of direction – or misguided direction – that federal laws and policies provide public land managers,” he writes. “And while our exceptional firefighters put their lives on the line, the challenges they face on the ground are aggravated by litigious single-interest environmental groups devoted to economically undermining such traditional industries as ranching and forest products.”

Click below to read Otter's full article, which concludes: “It’s time for a new dialogue and a new approach to federal land management.”