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Gov. Butch Otter has called for adding five more seats to the WWAMI collaborative medical school program that allows Idaho students to attend med school at the University of Washington, with the seats targeted to a program aimed at rural areas. He also is calling for more residency programs at the Boise VA Medical center; both moves are aimed at addressing the state’s physician shortage, and the aging of its physician workforce. "Like the rest of my budget, both these requests deserve your strong support," Otter told lawmakers, grinning as they responded with a round of applause.
He’s also touting his administration’s Medical Home Collaborative, which is aimed at moving Medicaid to a “patient-centered model of care” in which patients and their primary physicians work more closely together.
A perhaps surprising announcement from Gov. Butch Otter: At least for now, he’s opposing expansion of Idaho’s Medicaid program largely at federal expense, though a working group he convened to study the issue called for the expansion. “There’s a lot more work to do, and we face no immediate federal deadline,” the governor said. “We have time to do it and to do it right, and there's a broad agreement that the existing Medicaid program is broken. So I’m seeking no expansion of those benefits. Instead, I’m asking Director (Dick) Armstrong (of Health & Welfare) to lead an effort to flesh out a plan for changing Idaho’s system with an eye toward the potential costs, savings and economic impact. I hope to return in 2014 with specific proposals based on that work, and I encourage all Idahoans to get involved with this process.”
Idaho’s current Catastrophic Health Care fund pays for indigents’ catastrophic medical expenses 100 percent with state tax funds and local property tax funds, to the tune of $60 million a year.
Gov. Butch Otter defended his support for a state-based health insurance exchange. “Rejecting the opportunity to assert ourselves will result in an unresponsive, one-size-fits-all federal exchange wreaking havoc on some of America’s most reasonable costs of coverage,” Otter declared. “At its core, this is a matter of states’ rights.”
He told lawmakers, “I soon will be introducing legislation affirming my decision.”
He said, “You all know how I feel about Obamacare. … But the fact remains that for now and for the foreseeable future, it is the law. And as responsible elected officials, we’re sworn to uphold the rule of law, not just those laws that we support.” That final statement drew a round of applause from the crowded legislative chamber, in which both senators and representatives are assembled.
The personal property tax on business equipment, which Idaho’s largest businesses are pushing hard to repeal this year, is something “nearly everyone agrees is an unfair drag on our economy,” Gov. Butch Otter told lawmakers in his State of the State message. He said, “Whether the tax is eliminated all at once or phased out over a few years is less important to me than an exit strategy that considers our counties’ financial stability.”
He said, “That isn’t necessarily about using state revenues to make counties ‘whole.’ In fact, my preference is granting local-option taxing authority that enables county voters to decide for themselves how to address their most pressing needs.”
Otter added, “However, I also have set aside $20 million in my budget for easing counties’ transition. I look forward to hearing your debate and considering your alternatives.”
A legislative initiative Gov. Butch Otter is outlining is an expansion of the “Hire One Act” that he successfully pushed for in 2011. The new legislation would clarify the existing tax credit for new employees, plus add $1,000 to the employer’s credit if the new worker is a veteran. The governor is calling it the “Hire One Hero” program. “My new legislation is intended to provide one more reason for employers to consider veterans, besides their skills, training and work ethic,” the governor said. It’s unclear at this point what the cost of the changes will be, but it could be as much as $11 million per year.
Gov. Butch Otter is highlighting university-business collaborations in the state and efforts at Idaho’s community colleges to address workforce development issues. He’s also paying tribute to Katie Pemberton of Canfield Middle School in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho’s 2013 teacher of the year. “She’s earned that recognition in part by making technology a cornerstone of her math classes at Canfield,” Otter said. He also got a quick but loud round of applause when he acknowledged the Albertson Foundation for its support of education in Idaho, including a $5 million grant for innovative teacher training at the U of I and Northwest Nazarene University.
Education policy in the wake of the voter-rejected “Students Come First” laws is a hot-button issue as this year’s legislative session convenes, and Gov. Butch Otter had some strong things to say about it in his State of the State message. “I do NOT seek to simply revisit issues related to school improvement that were raised in the recent election,” he declared. “Instead, I’ve asked the State Board of Education to assemble a broad cross-section of stakeholders to study the message voters sent us and identify elements of school improvement on which there is broad agreement.”
He said, “I’m convinced that acting too quickly or without due deliberation will generate needless distraction from our goals of improving efficiency, effectiveness, transparency and accountability in our education system.”
Said the governor, “There was no electoral mandate for the changes we proposed on Nov. 6. But I also heard no clarion call for the status quo. What I heard was dissatisfaction with the process and a plea for more collaborative leadership. We must respond with appropriate sensitivity and care.”
Interestingly, the governor’s budget contains an expenditure directly related to this: $33.9 million in ongoing money in the public school budget to enact recommendations that that stakeholder group and lawmakers agree on in budget for the coming year, which starts July 1.
“Let me say it again, I am neither calling for nor expecting major school improvement measures this year,” Otter told lawmakers. “But I believe there are areas in which we can make progress, and I encourage you and all citizens to engage in that public discussion.”
Otter’s first hint about the state budget he’s proposing for next year: He doesn’t want state government to grow as fast as “our economy and the people’s ability to pay for it.” Therefore, he said, his budget will call for a 3.1 percent increase in state general fund spending, though state economists are predicting a 5.3 percent increase in general fund tax revenue next year. Otter said that move reflects “our continuing need for caution and prudence in the collection and expenditure of the people’s hard-earned dollars.”
Details in the budget itself show that Otter is proposing a $2.786 billion general fund budget for fiscal year 2014, up $84 million from the original appropriation for the current year, 2013, of $2.702 billion. He’s proposing to add another $35 million to the state’s main rainy-day fund, the budget stabilization fund; set aside $20 million toward a phaseout or repeal of the personal property tax on business equipment; and a 2 percent, $25.6 million increase in the general fund budget for public schools.
The budget includes no base pay increase for state employees or teachers, other than for a small number of military division workers.
Gov. Butch Otter has begun his “State of the State” message to a joint session of the Idaho Legislature, and as he began, he noted the snowy weather outside. “I consider it an omen, that if God’ll help us with this and our watershed, He certainly ought to help us here with the rest of our endeavors for the year,” Otter said to applause.
He also paused to “welcome back to the chamber” former Gov. Phil Batt, who’s in the gallery. After a sustained standing ovation for Batt – which he acknowledged by rising once, then, grudgingly, again – Otter said to laughter, “Gov. Batt always used to complain about standing ovations until one time we didn’t stand to give him an ovation, and then he complained about our disrespect.”
Otter started out his speech paying tribute to retiring Idaho State Police Director Col. Jerry Russell and to former state Controller Donna Jones, who stepped down from her elected post this year to focus on recovering from serious injuries in a car accident. “They have my sincere thanks and deep regard for their years of dedicated service to the people of Idaho,” the governor said.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter faces a major leadership test when Idaho lawmakers convene their legislative session on Monday: convincing many from his own party that it’s in the state’s best interest to run its own health insurance exchange, when many want no part of “Obamacare.” Otter’s tried before to convince recalcitrant fellow Republicans to do something they didn’t want to do, notably failing in 2009 to get them to raise state taxes to fund major road improvements. He tried vetoes. He tried arm-twisting. But his own party didn’t budge.
Otter said Friday that he’s committed to creating the exchange, which would provide Idahoans an online place to shop for health insurance plans and access government subsidies, only with legislative support. “I think it is a states’ rights issue, that we should be at the table,” the governor declared. “I thought that with the wolves or the grizzly bears, I thought that with the caribou, I thought that with the sage hen and almost every other issue that has come up. If we stay at the table, I think we can make a difference. We did make a difference in most of those negotiations.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Click below for a report from AP reporter John Miller on the potential repeal of the personal property tax on business property. Gov. Butch Otter said Friday that he'll promote a repeal plan in his State of the State address to lawmakers on Monday, provided it can be accomplished without harming local government in Idaho. But there are wide-ranging implications, including tax shifts.
Gov. Butch Otter, asked about the question of nuclear waste in Idaho, declared, “We are not going to become the dumping ground for nuclear waste.” He said, “I have no disagreement with Gov. Batt’s 1995 agreement. I thought it was great when he got the agreement, I thought it was great when we established a ‘get out of Idaho by 2035,’ and I see no reason to change that. What I do see is the failure of the federal government and a potential conflict with them, because of their failure to open Yucca Mountain on time or at all maybe.”
Asked about Idaho’s vacant governor’s mansion – which is costing the state nearly $180,000 a year in upkeep - Gov. Butch Otter said it’s not up to him what the state does with the home of his late former father-in-law. “What you could do with $180,000 a year in the classroom, that would make a pretty good difference,” Otter said. “But on the other hand, what if a person gets elected governor, say six or eight years from now, that has a family, and actually comes from northern Idaho or eastern Idaho … and has a large family? Remember there are only two bedrooms in that house.”
Here’s what Gov. Butch Otter had to say this morning on the issue of a state-run health insurance exchange: “Let me just say from the outset on that, I see nothing wrong, or nothing liberal, or maybe even nothing conservative, about preserving all of our options,” he said, “and to back away from the table and just say ’you folks come in and set your own up’, I don’t think really that establishes for me an idea of sovereignty of the state of Idaho. I think it is a states’ rights issue, that we should be at the table.”
He added, “ I thought that with the wolves or the grizzly bears, I thought that with the caribou, I thought that with the sage hen and almost every other issue that has come up. If we stay at the table, I think we can make a difference. We did make a difference in most of those negotiations.”
Gov. Butch Otter praised state legislative leaders for setting up extensive ethics training for lawmakers next week. “I think sometimes we cross an ethical barrier because we simply don’t know the rules,” he said, “so I see great advantage for leadership to step up.”
Gov. Butch Otter told reporters this morning that education reform must be arrived at collaboratively and with consensus, saying the process that led to the voter-rejected “Students Come First” laws, which he championed, was badly flawed. “It’s pretty hard to establish consensus if you’re only talking to yourself on a matter of public policy,” Otter said.
Gov. Butch Otter is here at the Statehouse to speak to the press this morning at the annual AP legislative preview – though it’s First Lady Lori Otter’s birthday. There’s an overflow crowd.
“I will tell you that the state of the state is in pretty good shape,” Otter said, particularly compared to other states. “I hear horror stories about them not being able to meet the mandates of a balanced budget, their unemployment rates,” Otter said.
He said he’ll propose a balanced budget on Monday that will be structurally sound, a goal he’s long had – to bring Idaho’s state budget into structural balance by 2014. He also said he’ll have a lot to say in his State of the State message about repeal of the personal property tax. “I will tell you that I think there is a growing consensus amongst folks that the personal property tax is one of the drags on our economy and that we need to do something about it, and the question is what and how fast,” Otter said. He said another part of the question is “how do we do what we would like to do … without doing … harm to the local units of government. So those will all be debated and re-debated.”
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter was notified today that the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has “conditionally approved” Idaho’s plan to operate a state-based health care exchange. “We got a phone call from HHS informing us of that decision,” said Jon Hanian, Otter’s press secretary; the call came yesterday afternoon, and was followed by a letter today from HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius to Otter. “It shows that despite an extremely difficult timeline, staff did a pretty good job of pulling all the various required components together,” Hanian said. “If we get approval from the Legislature, then we have HHS’s approval to go ahead and move forward with the plans we submitted. … It means that we’d eventually probably have their full approval for running it on our own, which is what the governor identified as the reason we’re doing this.”
Otter convened a working group that studied the issue for months, before overwhelmingly recommending that Idaho opt for a state-based exchange to enable residents to shop for health insurance plans and access government subsidies, rather than let the federal government run Idaho’s exchange. The exchanges are required under the national health care reform law, but Idaho had been exploring the idea well before the law passed.
Sibelius, in a news release today announcing conditional approval for state exchanges in Idaho, California, Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, Vermont and Utah, said, “States across the country are working to implement the health care law and build a marketplace that works for their residents.” Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have now been conditionally approved to partially or fully run their own exchanges.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter announced today that he'll form a broad stakeholders' group to examine the best ways to improve Idaho's schools in the wake of the failure of the voter-rejected "Students Come First" reform plan, and said he's not looking for legislation in 2013. "I will not be prescriptive other than to say I remain committed to equal access to opportunity for our children and to increasing support for our educators," the governor said in a guest opinion distributed today to Idaho newspapers. "The goal is to move education in Idaho forward for our students, our educators, and the businesses, colleges and universities that receive the product of our K-12 system. I do not expect this to be entirely about producing a legislative product. If participants find that best practices can be shared and schools improved without statutory changes, so be it."
He added, "Should legislation be necessary for school improvement efforts I expect this group to build consensus around those ideas by the 2014 legislative session." Otter said he's asked the State Board of Education to head up the effort; his op-ed piece includes supportive comments from the IEA, state schools Superintendent Tom Luna, Senate Education Chairman John Goedde of Coeur d'Alene, and state Board President Ken Edmunds. Click below to read the governor's full article.
"Men and women of good will can sometimes disagree passionately about the specifics of public policy, especially when it involves our children," Otter writes. "But I’m confident we can broadly agree on the need for improving how we educate Idaho students, and I’m equally confident that the people of Idaho will rise to the occasion of this renewed opportunity for taking positive steps toward achieving our shared goals."
Gov. Otter signaled his intent to avoid a clash over quick action on education reform, recommending that a task force he is creating return with recommendations for action in 2014.
Following the Nov. 6 defeat of the three Otter-backed Students Come First laws, both Otter and other GOP leaders had suggest they might seek to act as soon as the 2013 session. Otter said he'd seen polling that indicated Idahoans agreed with that approach.
But leaders of the repeal came out firmly against immediate action, saying that all stakeholders needed to be consulted before any new changes are proposed.
Otter adopted a similar approach in an article sent to Idaho newspapers Thursday, in which he outlined how he hopes members of the task force are selected and quoted the president of the Idaho teachers' union, among others. Idaho Statesman Read more.
Is it just me, or is government the only entity that considers creating a task force taking action? Does this bode well for the future education in Idaho?
Buoyed by the results of a private poll commissioned by Education Voters of Idaho, some backers of the failed “Students Come First” school reform laws – including Gov. Butch Otter – are calling for reviving “parts and pieces” of the voter-rejected laws. But the leaders of the successful referendum campaign against the laws say they shouldn’t be the starting point for new school reform discussions. “We just had the ultimate poll,” said Mike Lanza, referring to the overwhelming rejection of the laws by voters on Nov. 6. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has named a new budget director: Jani Revier, who served on his congressional staff and has worked as a special projects manager for Congressman Mike Simpson since 2007. Revier, the first woman to hold the position, will start as Otter's Division of Financial Management chief Jan. 2; the appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.
Revier, who also previously worked for the U.S. House Agriculture Subcommittee on Forestry, Conservation and Rural Revitalization and as a legislative assistant to then-U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, is the daughter of state Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson. “I’m extremely fortunate to have such an experienced, savvy and proven leader agree to assume the responsibilities of budget director,” Otter said in a statement. “I worked closely with Jani in Congress and I’ve known her and her family for many years. They are great people, and Jani is an excellent addition to my team.”
Click below for Otter's full announcement; Revier replaces Wayne Hammon, who resigned in September after five years in the position to head the Idaho Association of General Contractors. Although Revier is the first woman appointed as theIdaho governor's budget chief, theIdaho Legislature's current budget chief also is a woman: Cathy Holland-Smith.
Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on Gov. Butch Otter's announcement today that he's recommending a privately operated, state-based health insurance exchange in Idaho as the best option for Idaho to maintain control over how health care reform operates in the state. Said Otter, "I know the earnest and well-intentioned debate will continue," as lawmakers consider the exchange legislation he'll propose in January.
The Idaho Health Exchange Alliance, a coalition of more than 400 insurers, businesses, individuals and trade associations in Idaho, applauded Gov. Butch Otter's decision today to recommend that lawmakers approve a privately operated, state-based health insurance exchange. "We're very grateful that Gov. Otter has shown Idaho the way forward on this issue,” said Heidi Low, executive director of the group. “A state-based exchange will help Idaho have more control over Idaho's health insurance costs and keep Idaho in the driver's seat on health insurance issues.” You can read the group's full statement here.
Meanwhile, Wayne Hoffman, executive director of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, decried the governor's announcement, issuing this statement: "I have a great deal of respect for my friend, Gov. Otter. However, I strongly disagree with his decision. More than 20 states have indicated that they will not implement a state exchange. States are opposed because they understand that Obamacare depends entirely on states to implement it. States are opposed because they know that a state exchange affords almost no flexibility and makes states co-owners of the looming disaster in medicine: higher insurance premiums, more expensive medical care, reduced accessibility and worse patient outcomes. Gov. Otter's decision makes the national effort of resistance much more difficult and more likely the law will remain in place, at great cost to Idaho families, businesses and our nation's economic vitality. Idaho Freedom Foundation will do everything it can, along with other opponents of Obamacare, to make sure Idaho never implements this destructive law."
Among lawmakers reacting to Gov. Butch Otter’s health care exchange announcement today is Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, who spoke from Denver, where he’s attending an education meeting. “ I think the governor did the right thing in the face of certainly a lot of opposition,” said Goedde, who served on Otter’s working group. “I don’t think that we have any choice - we’re going to establish a state-based exchange, or we are going to get the federal exchange by default.”
Goedde, a longtime insurance broker, said Idaho’s health insurance premiums are among the lowest in the nation, in part because Idaho has so few state mandates on what insurance plans must offer. If the state were lumped in with other states in a federal exchange, “There’s no question in my mind … it’s going to drive the cost of insurance up.”
Some Idaho lawmakers have been outspoken in opposition to doing anything required by “Obamacare,” and ideological groups like the Idaho Freedom Foundation have been lobbying hard against a state-based exchange, even as Idaho business groups and insurers pushed for it. Last year, the Idaho Legislature took no action on an insurance exchange, gambling that the U.S. Supreme Court would overturn the law. Instead, it upheld it.
“I’m just proud of our governor,” Goedde said. “He knows he’s going to be taking heat, but he did the right thing.”
Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, has been among the most outspoken opponents of a state exchange. “My inclination is to resist,” he said after the governor’s announcement. “The bottom line is if the federal government is going to control it, they should run it. I’m just not inclined to believe that the Legislature should just rubber-stamp this, but there’s a lot of new people there and we’ll have to see how they go. I’m just not going to be able to go along. I don’t think it’s good for my state, I don’t think it’s good for my constituents, and I’m absolutely convinced that my constituents do not want it.”
House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, a retired physician and former health insurance excecutive, said, “Idaho’s a low-cost health insurance state. And if we’re pooled with the national average, you can expect that you’d be paying the national average.” He estimated that Idahoans pay $500 to $1,000 less in annual premiums than the nation as a whole, mainly because of few state manda and low utilization rates. Putting Idaho into a federal exchange would force Idahoans to pay national rates, he said.
“It’s the better decision,” Rusche said of Otter’s announcement. He added, “The politics of this are going to be really interesting.”
Gov. Butch Otter’s recommendation for a state-run health insurance exchange matches that of his working group that studied the issue for months – it’d be a privately operated, state-based exchange. Jon Hanian, Otter’s press secretary, said the privately run feature was a “better option” because it can get up and running more quickly than a traditional state agency. But, he said, “Let’s be honest. There was very little in these options that he liked. … But I think given all the work that the working group did and the fact that this decision kind of preserves some options and preserves flexibility for Idahoans, I think that’s why he came down where he did on this.” He added, “It’s going to be a work in progress.”
Health insurance exchanges, under the national health care reform law, will provide an online marketplace where consumers can shop for the plans, rates and features they want, and also access government subsidies if they qualify for them. States have the option of setting up their own exchanges, partnering with the federal government, or doing nothing and allowing the federal government to operate their state exchanges.
Said Otter, “All the criticisms of the exchange mandate that I and many others have expressed remain valid and troubling. The law is governed by an evolving set of increasingly complex rules and requirements. It is onerous, unwieldy and fraught with unknowns. That makes it all the more important to remember that my decision today can be rescinded if the Legislature disagrees or withdrawn by me if circumstances warrant – a real possibility on such a constantly moving target. But with what we know today, this is our best option.”
Otter will propose legislation when lawmakers convene in January to set up the new exchange. “We will have details about it in the State of the State,” Hanian said, the message the governor delivers to a joint session of the Legislature on its opening day, Jan. 7.
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.
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.
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.
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."