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Allred Leads Otter In Press Poll, But …

I’ve been watching with interest the current Coeur d’Alene Press poll re: the Idaho governor’s race. Democrat Keith Allred has been leading for the last 36 hours or so — 47% to 42%, with the rest undecided or pulling for another candidate. Yeah, yeah, I know — newspaper polls are very unscientific … and this is probably the work of local Democrats who voted early and often. Still, it’s funny. On the other hand, Otter is leading Allred by 19% in a statewide poll commissioned by KREM, KIFI, & KTVB here.

Question: What value do you see in newspaper polls — or even the one that runs daily here at Huckleberries Online. (Before you answer cynically that there is no value, consider. Partisans go out of there way to stacked the vote … and followers regularly retweet results here.)

Otter Now Sides w/Arizona Law

Gov. Butch Otter has changed his tone about Arizona’s controversial immigration law. Today, he announced that Idaho has filed a “friend of the court” brief backing Arizona in its defense of the law. “State officials have the right under existing federal law to identify illegal aliens and report them to federal authorities,” Otter said today. “It’s our affirmative duty to protect states’ rights, and that’s particularly important when a lawsuit seeks to punish a state for doing what the federal government has failed to do – protect our borders and American citizens.” In May, Otter criticized Congress for failing to resolve the immigration crisis, but questioned whether police officers could enforce the Arizona law without violating civil liberties. “It would take a person, I suspect, bigger than I not to immediately begin to profile”/Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman. More here. (AP file photo of supporter at pro-Arizona immigration law in Phoenix earllier this summer)

Question: Is Otter playing politics, attempting to tap into the deep-seated concern among Idahoans re: illegal immigration? Or has he had a change of heart?

Idaho joins appeal on Ariz immigration law

Idaho has joined Michigan in a “friend of the court” brief siding with Arizona in its appeal from a federal judge’s initial ruling invalidating portions of the state’s far-reaching immigration law; 11 states have now joined in the appeal. Gov. Butch Otter said, “It’s our affirmative duty to protect states’ rights, and that’s particularly important when a lawsuit seeks to punish a state for doing what the federal government has failed to do – protect our borders and American citizens.” Click below to read his full news release.

Rasmussen: Otter 52%, Allred 36%

Incumbent Republican C.L. “Butch” Otter still leads the race for Idaho’s next governor. A new Rasmussen Reports telephone survey of Likely Voters in Idaho finds that Otter holds a sizable 52% to 36% advantage over his Democratic challenger, Keith Allred. Just seven percent (7%) prefer some other candidate, and five percent (5%) are not sure. Numbers have hardly changed since July, when Otter held a 53% to 36% lead.  The Republican held a 32-point advantage over his Democratic challenger – 60% to 32% - in the first Rasmussen Reports survey of the race in late March/Rasmussen Reports. More here.

Question: What do you make of the latest figures?

Round 2: Did ‘Keith Cut Property Taxes’?

Item: Truthiness takes over Idaho governor’s race: Allred’s campaign says ‘Keith cut property taxes.’ Otter’s counters that ‘he had nothing to do’ with it. Neither is exactly right/Rocky Barker, Idaho Statesman

More Info: Back in 2006, Dan Popkey interviewed lawmakers about how it happened. They made it clear that Allred helped persuade the Legislature to tie the exemption’s value not to the Consumer Price Index, but to the Idaho Housing Price Index. “Keith brought it to our attention,” Sen. Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, a member of the Senate tax panel, said then. “I don’t think we even knew there was a housing index.”

Question: Sounds like Allred’s side is more correct than Otter’s. Or am I reading this right?

Allred, GOP Battle Over ‘06 Tax Relief

Gov. Butch Otter and top Republicans in the Idaho Legislature are accusing Keith Allred, the Democratic candidate for governor, of taking too much credit for a 2006 plan that reduced property tax bills for homeowners.  Allred’s campaign is calling it an odd attack, and some Republicans in the Idaho Senate say Allred did play a part in getting the plan passed. “He was involved on a very minimal basis,” House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, said in a news release. “There is absolutely no way he can carry the banner on this one and take credit.” In 2006, state lawmakers approved a plan that increased the homeowner’s exemption on property tax bills from $50,000 to $75,000/Brad Iverson-Long, Idaho Reporter. More here.

Question: What do you make of this latest dust-up? How much credit should Democrat Keith Allred take in this important change that reduced property taxes?

Otter, Allred on car-truck fee study

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on today’s meeting of Gov. Butch Otter’s transportation funding task force, which voted unanimously to accept a new state-commissioned cost-allocation study showing car owners are overpaying for Idaho roads while heavy trucks underpay, but expressed strong reservations about raising fees for trucks. Here’s Otter’s reaction to today’s task force action:

“The cost allocation study is a helpful starting point, not an end. We have to put its findings in context. The study will help inform policy makers as we determine the need and how to address it. But we also must answer such policy questions as whether to include GARVEE funding, whether to include federal funding or whether to look at state funding alone in determining a path forward under the study.”

And here’s the reaction of Otter’s Democratic challenger, Keith Allred, who’s called for cutting Idaho’s gas tax by 3 cents a gallon and raising truck fees to make up the difference: “Idaho families can’t afford to subsidize the heavy trucking industry in times like these. We need a governor who works for Idaho families, not his political contributors.”

SupCourt grants motion to expedite Highway 12 appeal, sets arguments for Oct. 1

The Idaho Transportation Department has joined ConocoPhillips in appealing to the Idaho Supreme Court a local judge’s decision to revoke its permits for four huge truckloads of oil refinery equipment to travel winding U.S. Highway 12 from Lewiston to Montana, saying the decision could “end up restricting commerce and limiting business opportunities.”    Meanwhile, the high court granted a motion from ConocoPhillips to expedite the court appeal, rather than take the usual time - averaging 450 days - to hear a civil appeal. However, it set oral arguments for Oct. 1. That’s expedited for a Supreme Court appeal, but it’s not quick enough to allow Conoco to move the four giant shipments before paving starts on the second lane of the Arrow Bridge on Highway 12, as it had hoped.

Because the loads are so wide they’ll take up both lanes of the bridge, that means the earliest they could move - if everything went Conoco’s way - would be late October, when the paving job is scheduled to be completed. The first lane already has been paved; Conoco has been paying the ITD’s contractor to hold off on the second lane while the permits were tied up in court. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com; read ITD’s filings here and see the Supreme Court’s order here.

ITD joins wide-loads appeal

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press:  BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Transportation Department joined an oil refiner in asking the state Supreme Court to overturn a judge’s decision that’s halted shipments of oversized equipment over U.S. Highway 12. ConocoPhillips has already appealed 2nd District Judge John Bradbury’s move to revoke state permits, claiming it will lose up to $9 million and suffer production disruptions at a Montana refinery. In its appeal Monday, the Idaho highway agency argued Bradbury erred on several fronts. Its director, Brian Ness, wants state high court justices to let ConocoPhillips move ahead, contending his agency has taken steps to provide for safe transport of the big gear on U.S. 12. Environmental groups and others oppose ConocoPhillips shipments and more than 200 separate, planned wide-load transports by Exxon Mobile Corp. that are bound for Canada’s oil country.

Meanwhile, in a news release, ITD Director Brian Ness said the department decided to appeal today in part because it felt 2nd District Judge John Bradbury’s decision revoking the ConocoPhillips permits limited the department’s discretion, which could “end up restricting commerce and limiting business opportunities.” He also said he felt the department reached its decision regardless of the fact that ConocoPhillips already had shipped its oversize loads to the Port of Lewiston in May. Click below to read the full ITD news release.

Richert: Good News On Debate Front

Before the May GOP primary, I took Gov. Butch Otter and Sen. Mike Crapo to task for skipping out on debates aired statewide on Idaho Public Television. The prospects are looking better this time around. Crapo’s campaign has tentatively agreed to an Oct. 19 debate — although the Senate’s adjournment date could pose a potential glitch. Otter’s camp has agreed to an Oct. 28 debate, just five days before the Nov. 2 election. According to the conventional wisdom, debates (help) a challenger by providing a shared podium with an incumbent. This is why incumbents often have considerable incentive to limit the number of debates — since the office holders already hold the edge in name identification and, generally in fund-raising/Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman. More here.

Question Why do you think incumbents Butch Otter & Mike Crapo are willing to debate this year?

Conoco says delay in Highway 12 big truck shipments will cost it $9 million

ConocoPhillips says if it can’t get its four huge loads across U.S. Highway 12 from Lewiston into Montana in the coming days, it won’t be able to make needed repairs at its Billings refinery until next summer and will lose $9 million. In a motion to the Idaho Supreme Court to expedite its appeal of a judge’s decision revoking the permits, Conoco argues, “The delay will impose millions of dollars of loss and will disrupt and compromise the production of the Billings refinery - all before the merits of the appeal are addressed.”

The average civil appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court takes 450 days from filing to opinion. An expedited case can move much more quickly, and Conoco argues that the record is complete in its case and the court can take it up right away with only minimal additional briefing. “Preparations have taken years to put into place” for the trucking of two gigantic new 350-ton coker drums from the Port of Lewiston to Billings, Conoco said in its filings, including scheduling the transport around repairs on the Arrow Bridge. Each drum is cut in half, making four giant loads that are so wide they take up both lanes of the two-lane highway and bridge. You can read Conoco’s filings here, which include a copy of the ITD’s Aug. 20 decision to grant the permits. And here’s a link to the plaintiffs’ response to the motion.

HBO Poll: Otter Budget Hurt Education

  • Thursday Poll: 96 of 154 (62%) respondents said Gov. Butch Otter hurt Idaho education by offering & approving a budget that was too conservative. 55 of 154 (36%) said he wasn’t. 3 of 154 (2%) were undecided.
  • Weekend Poll: Which talented team will emerge as football champion of the 5A Inland Empire League?

Marty: Cheers For Guv Debates

In his weekly Cheers & Jeers column, Marty Trillhaase/Lewiston Tribune writes: “CHEERS … to Gov. C.L. (Butch) Otter. He’s the incumbent Republican in a Republican state. He’s ahead of Democratic challenger Keith Allred by, depending on the poll, at least 11 points. So the prudent thing for Otter would be to dispense with Allred in one obligatory debate. Not this time. Otter has agreed to share the stage as many as five times in this campaign:

  • Aug. 19’s debate at the Idaho Falls City Club.
  • Sept. 15 at the Boise City Club.
  • Oct. 7 at Lewiston, sponsored by the Tribune, the Moscow-Pullman Daily News and KLEW. (Otter’s people say this is tentative. They’re still working out the schedule.)
  • Oct. 13 at Caldwell, presented by Boise’s KTVB, Spokane’s KREM and Idaho Falls’ KIFI television stations.
  • Oct 28 at Boise, broadcast statewide over Idaho Public Television and co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters and the Idaho Press Club.” More here.

Question: I join Lewiston Trib opinionator Marty Trillhaase in applauding Butch Otter for his series of debates against Democrat Keith Allred. But there be one debate in North Idaho?

North Idaho bridge construction still on hold as oil company seeks permits for big loads

Emmert International, the contractor for ConocoPhillips tasked with hauling the four huge loads of refinery equipment bound for Montana via U.S. Highway 12, still is paying McAlvain Construction, the contractor for the state who’s repaving the Arrow Bridge, to hold off on starting paving on the bridge’s second lane, ITD confirmed today. The oil company had planned to ship its oversize loads, which will take up both lanes of the bridge, in a narrow window between completion of paving of one lane, and the start of paving of the second. That window technically closed Monday, but Emmert has been paying McAlvain since then to “stand down” as it attempts to get permits to move the loads; an appeal now has been filed to the Idaho Supreme Court. If the loads don’t go now, the next time both lanes of the bridge will be open is October.

Jeff Stratten, ITD spokesman, said, “The bridge is scheduled to be completed in late October. The Idaho Transportation Department is not adjusting the completion date. The contractor could make up for the suspension of work by adding or extending shifts and adding additional workers.”

Conoco: Highway 12 residents’ claims ‘speculative’

Here is the notice of appeal filed by ConocoPhillips of 2nd District Judge John Bradbury’s ruling revoking its ITD permits to move four giant loads over Highway 12 from Lewiston to Montana, starting immediately. The appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court includes notice that the oil company will file a motion to “expedite,” or speed up, the high court appeal.

In the notice of appeal, ConocoPhillips says the three Highway 12 river canyon residents and business owners who sued don’t really have standing to sue, because “their alleged injuries are speculative, hypothetical, abstract, and are not causally related to the four shipments that are at issue.” The firm also questions the judge’s decision that ITD acted in an an arbitrary and capricious manner in its application of state regulations requiring a “reasonable determination of necessity” before approving such oversize loads; and charged that the court considered some evidence it shouldn’t have and ignored other evidence it should have examined. “ConocoPhillip has a right to appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court, and the Order … is appealable,” the firm wrote in its filing.

Interestingly, the five justices of the Idaho Supreme Court include Justice Roger Burdick, who was elected to another term on the court he’s served on since 2003 in May, turning back a challenge from Bradbury - the district judge in the Highway 12 case. The Missoulian has a full report today on the appeal; click here to read it.

Allred: Otter Botched Budget, Hurt Ed

Keith Allred, Democratic candidate for governor, says the latest official state revenue forecasts shows “Otter cut schools unnecessarily,” and said in a news release this morning, “New information about Idaho’s budget once again underscores one point: Idaho school kids shouldn’t have to pay the price for Butch Otter’s botched budget.” Idaho lawmakers and Otter cut funding for public schools this year by $128 million, 7.5 percent. The latest state revenue forecast suggests the current fiscal year, which began July 1, could end with about $80 million more in state tax revenue that lawmakers predicted/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise. More here.

Question: Did Butch Otter act responsibly by taking a conservative approach to the education budget? Or did he hurt education by being too cautious?

Lewiston Trib: Conoco appealing Hwy 12 decision

The Lewiston Tribune reports that ConocoPhillips filed a notice of appeal at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday at the 2nd District Court office in Grangeville. So far this morning, the Idaho Supreme Court has not received a notice of appeal of 2nd District Judge John Bradbury’s decision revoking ITD permits for Conoco’s proposed four mega-loads of oil refinery equipment to travel U.S. Highway 12 from Lewiston to Montana; the defendants who lost have 42 days from the date of judgment to file an appeal. The Tribune reported, “The oil company filed the appeal based on respondents failure to meet their burden of proof that these shipments would harm them and that the District Court erred in considering certain evidence.

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Otter Enters Spokane River Dispute

Item: Otter gets involved in bi-state river dispute: Governor: New technology may help solve problem/Brian Walker, Coeur d’Alene Press

More Info: Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has been enlisted to help shake the bi-state Spokane River cleanup plan controversy. Otter and Post Falls Mayor Clay Larkin met behind closed doors on Wednesday to discuss how Idaho agencies that discharge wastewater to the river can avoid a costly court battle with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Question: Do you want to see Gov. Butch Otter be involved in the cleanup controversy involving the Spokane River?

More on Highway 12: Full ruling, ITD response, more

Here’s a link to 2nd District John Bradbury’s decision on the Highway 12 oversize shipments today. And here’s the response from the Idaho Transportation Department: “The department received the ruling at about 5:15 p.m. (Mountain time) today. The deputy attorney general is reviewing the ruling and he has scheduled a briefing tomorrow with the department’s leadership team,” said ITD spokesman Jeff Stratten.

And here’s another interesting tidbit: There was identical language in both draft permits, in both Idaho and Montana, “where it said that Idaho would not issue unless Montana was in position to do so, and vice versa,” Stratten said. “So before any loads would have rolled up the highway, Montana would have had to have issued a permit.”

And here’s another: ConocoPhillips had been hoping to get its four giant truck shipments over the Arrow Bridge on Highway 12 during a brief window between completion of the paving of one lane of the bridge deck, and the start of paving of the other, since the loads need to take up both lanes. That window technically ended yesterday. “ConocoPhillips was paying the contractor, McAlvain Construction, to stand down pending the court ruling,” Stratten said. “I’d need to get back to you tomorrow on when they’ll resume construction based on this ruling.” Once the bridge paving begins, both lanes won’t be available again until October. Here’s a link to our full story at spokesman.com.

Opponents of giant truck shipments won on both their claims

The three Highway 12 residents who sued over permits for four giant oversized loads of oil refinery equipment scheduled to travel along the scenic river-canyon route won on both points in their lawsuit today: That the ITD, in issuing permits for the loads, violated its own regulations that require traffic not to be held up for more than 10 minutes; and that it violated its regulations requiring that it make a “reasonable determination” that the oversize shipments are necessary and feasible, and make public safety and convenience a primary consideration. “We won on both the claims we presented,” said Laird Lucas of Advocates for the West.

Both sides in the case - the residents, and the ITD and ConocoPhillips - argued the full merits of the case yesterday, and today’s decision from 2nd District Judge John Bradbury is a final ruling revoking the permits as unlawful; that means there’s no need for an injunction, as had originally been sought to block the shipments. “The permits are thrown out and they can’t move the shipments,” Lucas said. “It’s going to be a real problem for Exxon as well, because those loads are just as large and also cannot make a 10-minute delay rule.”

Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil plans more than 200 oversized shipments of equipment for its Alberta oil sands project over the same route starting in November; half of those 200 loads would be so wide they’d take up both lanes of the two-lane highway. No permits have yet been issued for those, though the company has spent $440,000 to improve turnouts along the route. Click here for the latest report from the Lewiston Tribune on today’s ruling in Lewiston.

Judge stops Highway 12 shipments, revokes permits

This just in from the Associated Press: LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) — An Idaho judge has revoked special permits issued by the state to allow ConocoPhillips to ship four oversized loads of oil refinery equipment along a highway that follows a winding, federally protected river corridor in northern Idaho. Second District Judge John Bradbury ordered the Idaho Transportation Department to study the permit request again and take action to ensure the safety and convenience of the public. Last week, Bradbury put a temporary halt to the oil company’s plans to ship the massive coke drums along the 175-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 12. He issued his opinion on Tuesday, after hearing testimony on the case on Monday.

Judge Revokes Permits For Huge Loads

An Idaho judge has revoked special permits issued by the state to allow ConocoPhillips to ship four oversized loads of oil refinery equipment along a highway that follows a winding, federally protected river corridor in northern Idaho. Second District Judge John Bradbury ordered the Idaho Transportation Department to study the permit request again and take action to ensure the safety and convenience of the public. Last week, Bradbury put a temporary halt to the oil company’s plans to ship the massive coke drums along the 175-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 12. He issued his opinion today, after hearing testimony on the case on Monday/Betsy Russell, SR. (Courtesy photo from Judge John Bradbury’s Supreme Court run)

Question: Did Judge John Bradbury make the right call?

Highway 12 decision still pending…

Here’s a update from the Lewiston Tribune: “Second District Judge John Bradbury is still working on his decision in a case where the court has been asked to block four mega-truckloads from traveling on U.S. Highway 12 from Lewiston to a refinery in Billings, Mont. The judge had hoped to be finished by noon. But by midday his ruling had already topped 40 pages and still wasn’t complete. Bradbury spent more than two hours in a Monday hearing with attorneys representing the Idaho Transportation Department, ConocoPhillips and three Idaho residents who filed the action. ITD issued permits for the loads to move Friday, but promised they wouldn’t start their journey until after Bradbury’s ruling. The plaintiffs claim the loads would present safety hazards, erode tourism and possibly threaten the scenic river corridor along which they would travel.”

Montana not ready to issue big-load permits

Here’s an interesting item from The Missoulian: “No matter what an Idaho judge decides Tuesday, Montana isn’t ready to give a green light to the shipment of four massive loads of oil refinery equipment bound from the Port of Lewiston to Billings. “No, not this quickly,” Jim Lynch, director of the Montana Department of Transportation, said Monday. “We’re still working through some issues that we need to get resolved with Conoco.”” Click here to read the full Missoulian article.

Arguments in Lewiston on Highway 12…

During more than two hours of arguments today in the Highway 12 lawsuit, the AP reports, the attorney for the scenic byway residents, Natalie Havlina, told 2nd District Judge John Bradbury that ITD officials narrowly focused their review of oversize truck shipments along the route on potential damage to roads and bridges, but failed to adequately consider other factors state law required them to consider, such as public safety and convenience. Attorneys for ITD and ConocoPhillips disagreed, saying the agency suggested numerous changes in the company’s travel plans, resulting in a 700-page document that lays out the ground rules for the shipments. “Two years of negotiations helped us create a plan that was in the public’s best interest,” agency attorney Tim Thomas told the judge. Click below for a full report from the Associated Press and the Lewiston Tribune; Bradbury said he’d rule Tuesday.

APhoto Of The Day — 8.23.10

Idaho governor C.L. “Butch”  Otter reacts after missing the back legs of a calf while  team  roping  with the Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association commissioner Karl Stressman at the Caldwell Night Rodeo on Friday in Caldwell. You write the cutline. (AP Photo/Idaho Press-Tribune, Charlie Litchfield)

Top Cutlines:

  • 1. Aww, man! Semanko promised I’d always win if I kept wearing Republican Red!! — DCR.
  • 2. The Governor reacts when he’s informed that Sarah Palin is planning to endorse his next reelection campaign — JohnA.
  • 3. Governor Butch Otter reacts to being told his roping score will not be counted as bonus points in the next debate against Democratic candidate Keith Allred — Voltron.
  • Nic

Why no backup for new Medicaid billing system…

Idaho state Health & Welfare Director Dick Armstrong says the new computerized billing system for Medicaid, which the federal government required Idaho to develop after its old system was declared obsolete, originally was supposed to begin operating in November, long before Molina Healthcare Inc. acquired the firm developing it in May. “We delayed it until February and then again until June because we believed the system was not ready for operations,” Armstrong wrote this month in a letter to Medicaid providers in Idaho. “These delays consumed any cushion we had to keep the previous system available as a backup.”

Under its contract with the state, Molina Healthcare could face penalties for the delays, but state officials said they’re focused for now on getting the system up and running, and will consider any penalties later.

Judge to decide tomorrow on injunction on big Highway 12 shipments

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) — A state judge says he will take a day before deciding whether ConocoPhillips can begin hauling massive loads of oil equipment along U.S. Highway 12 in northern Idaho. Last week, 2nd District Judge John Bradbury put a temporary halt on the company’s plans to truck four oversized loads along the federally protected scenic river corridor. Bradbury heard more than two hours of testimony during a hearing Monday in a lawsuit filed by three Idaho residents seeking a permanent block on the shipments. The Lewiston Tribune reports that Bradbury intends to review arguments and issue a ruling Tuesday. Opponents say the shipments would threaten public safety, pose a risk to the pristine corridor and hurt the region’s tourism industry.

Regrets, apologies as Idaho copes with Medicaid billing mess

Gov. Butch Otter called a press conference this morning with Health & Welfare Director Richard Armstrong and Mario Molina, CEO of Molina Healthcare Inc., the firm that’s handling the bungled changeover of Idaho’s Medicaid billing. “We’ve just finished what I would call a productive meeting on the problems we’ve had for the last six or seven weeks on getting our Medicaid payments out,” Otter said; Molina also met with an array of Medicaid providers, from home-health agencies to hospitals and doctors. Otter and Armstrong announced a moratorium on any penalties to providers for overpayments - barring fraud - for those who get emergency payments as the state sorts out the mess. Armstrong said new claims now are being processed normally, and he has “some comfort” that the backlog should be substantially cleared up within 60 days. Molina said his firm is adding 48 customer-service staffers in Boise, as part of a ramp-up to staffing of nearly 200, vs. the 100 it had when it first took on Idaho’s new computerized Medicaid billing system.

“Clearly there have been issues with the implementation of this new system,” Molina said. “I’m not here to make excuses. … I want to apologize to the providers who have had problems and to the state.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com. Molina, a physician, said his father, also a physician, founded his firm 30 years ago, and it still operates some clinics that provide Medicaid services, so it relies on just the type of service that’s broken down in Idaho. Two-thirds of the new workers have now been hired and trained, he said, and the remainder will be coming on within the next two weeks. “It was good for me to connect first-hand and hear from the providers what the major issues are,” he said. “We were understaffed initially because we didn’t understand the magnitude of the situation.”

When a reporter asked if the additional staffing would come at a cost to the state or to the company, Molina said, “I think that’s going to be our cost.” Interjected a wickedly grinning Otter, “You think?” “I’m pretty sure it’s going to be our cost,” Molina said.

Idaho awarded the contract for the new Medicaid claims payment system to a division of Unisys Corp., which spent two years developing it, only to be acquired by Molina on May 1, a month before the system went live. The Medicaid billing problem was magnified because the state, in a budget-balancing move, pushed three weeks worth of Medicaid payments to providers into the new fiscal year that started July 1, rather than paying them in June. Providers were notified in advance that their checks would be three weeks late, but then the computer snafu pushed that to six weeks and more, putting many small firms across the state in danger of going out of business.

Otter said of the budget move, “That added to the anxieties.” Some providers had taken bank loans to tide them through the three-week delay, he said, leaving them with major problems when the checks didn’t arrive as promised. “I never like to do that in any case,” Otter said of the delayed payments. “I regret doing that to any agency, let alone just the Health & Welfare agency.”

Idaho Blogs: A Weighty Issue For Otter

The shipments controversy exposes some of Otter’s potential weaknesses. An uninspiring record on environmental issues. A cozy relationship with business, such as the trucking industry. It also plays into one of Democratic challenger Keith Allred’s recurring themes — the suggestion that Otter makes snap decisions without vetting things out. Allred didn’t take a position for or against the shipments at a recent town hall meeting in Boise, but has criticized Otter for consulting only with shipping supporters/Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman. More here.

Question: On a scale of 1 to 10, how much concern do you think Gov. Butch Otter has for the environment?