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Otter signs closed-primary law, $100K payment to GOP, and school reform ‘emergency’ bills

Gov. Butch Otter has signed major legislation into law to impose party registration in Idaho and close the state's primary elections if parties choose to exclude anyone other than those registered as party members; he quietly signed HB 351 into law yesterday. Also, the same day, Otter quietly signed SB 1202 into law, making a $100,000 payment to the Idaho Republican Party for its legal fees in its successful lawsuit against the state that overturned the state's current primary election law as unconstitutional, because it kept the GOP from closing its primary.

Also, on Monday, Otter quietly signed all three “trailer bills,” bills that trail after and amend others, to amend the three already-signed education reform bills, SB 1108 on teacher contracts, SB 1110 on teacher merit pay, and SB 1184 on technology, by adding emergency clauses. The emergency clauses ensure that even if voter referenda qualify for the ballot in a bid to overturn those laws in the November 2012 general election, they aren't blocked from taking effect between now and then.

At 10:30 this morning, Otter will give his take on the legislative session in a press conference; it will be streamed live on the Internet, and you can watch here.

Jobs bill praised as one of few bright spots for job creation in session

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter signed a tax incentive bill into law Wednesday for new hires that's winning bipartisan praise as a bright spot in addressing Idaho's biggest issue this year - job creation - but there were few others in this year's legislative session. “I don't think as long as you've got one person in the state of Idaho out of work, we're ever doing enough,” said Otter, who noted that 74,000 Idahoans are now unemployed. “We're doing what we can.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

The bill, HB 297a, passed during the same legislative session in which lawmakers killed the state's major tax incentive for alternative energy development in a spat over neighbors' objections to wind turbines, and cut hundreds of public- and private-sector jobs through budget cuts in education and Medicaid. In this year's Boise State University public policy survey, Idahoans listed jobs as by far the most important issue facing the state.

INW: Otter Signs Luna’s Ed ‘Reform’

Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, left, smiles as state schools superintendent Tom Luna answers questions for the media during a news conference where the governor signed the third piece of the “Students Come First” legislation Friday in Boise. You can read Betsy Russell's Eye On Boise story here. And see her story re: the referendum against Luna's education reform below. (AP Photo/Idaho Press-Tribune photo: Charlie Litchfield)

Question: Do you plan to sign petitions for a referendum to vote on Superintendent Tom Luna's education “reform”?

To Otter: ‘You Killed American Dream’

Idaho lawmakers closed up the 2011 legislative session Thursday by sending a flurry of new bills to Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter. United Vision for Idaho had some some paperwork for Otter Thursday: a 140-page petition protesting much of the legislation. “We're gutting Medicare. We're gutting education,” said Adrienne Evans, UVI's executive director. “We're taking everything out of the hands of people who have helped build Idaho and that can't continue.” Evans and her colleagues presented a petition with 2,350 signatures and comments, including: “You have killed the American dream for my husband and me.” “I'm ashamed of my state.” “Don't cut my taxes. Let my kids have good public schools”/Jody May-Chang, Boise Weekly. More here.

Question: How long will it take Otter to put these petitions in the circular file?

Idaho to let novices hunt before taking safety course

LaFawn Sutton, 12, bagged this record-book whitetail buck in velvet during the September early bowhunting season near her Mount Spokane area home.

HUNTING — Idaho is joining the bandwagon of states allowing potential new hunters accompanied by a mentor to try the sport before they pass a state-certified hunter education course.

On Tuesday, Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter signed into law House Bill 85, making Idaho the 31st state to pass Families Afield legislation since the programs inception in 2004.

Montana is the only state in the Northwest that has not adopted Families Afield legislation.

This allows the Fish and Game Commission to establish a program under which newcomers could try hunting under the watchful eye of an experienced mentor prior to the completion of a hunter education course. Rich Landers, Outdoors Blog

Good idea/Bad idea?

Otter Quietly Signs 2 Luna Bills

Statement issued by Butch Otter as he signed Tom Luna's “education reform” bills into law: “I had the privilege of signing into law today two bills that have been a long time coming, have been publicly vetted and debated to an unprecedented degree, and will improve the ability of our public schools to fulfill their mission of educating Idaho’s children. But our work is not done. We are committed to continuing our work with lawmakers and stakeholders on legislation to provide students and educators with the technology and flexibility they need to be successful in an increasingly competitive world”/Betsy Russell's full post here. (AP file photo)

Question: Why did Butch Otter sign Tom Luna's education “reform” into law without fanfare?

Butch’s Way: Ignore Pro-Ed Rabble

Is it not incumbent upon supporters — and especially Otter, the fellow with the biggest bully pulpit in the Statehouse — to articulate their case? This is the same governor who, after state superintendent Tom Luna reported his car was vandalized, waxed eloquent about “the Idaho way” of engaging in vigorous disagreement on the issues. I guess the new “Idaho way” is to dismiss the opposition as misinformed rabble. So much for celebrating the common wisdom of the electorate/Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman. More here.

Question: What do you make of Gov. Butch Otter's statements, actions, and lack thereof during the education debate in the Idaho Legislature?

Otter Backs Wisconsin Governor

Public employee unions have virtually held elected officials “hostage” for too long, Gov. Butch Otter says, voicing his support for fellow GOP Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin. Otter has weighed in on the issue at a Republican Governors Association-sponsored website. Walker is pushing a bill to limit collective-bargaining rights of many public employees — a bill that has drawn the ire of unions, and has caused Democratic lawmakers to leave the state in an attempt to delay a vote and force negotiations/Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman. More here.

Question: Do you support Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin or the public unions opposing him?

IACI Bankrolls Otter/Luna Phone Call

Thousands of Idahoans participated in a telephone town hall led by Gov. Butch Otter and other advocates of school reform. Monday night’s forum was paid for by the state’s largest business lobby, the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry. Otter was joined by the author of the “Students Come First” plan, Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna and the two chairmen of the Legislature’s education committees, Sen. John Goedde and Rep. Bob Nonini, both Republicans from Coeur d’Alene. Otter invited recipients of the call to join the one-hour forum in a recorded message, and they could choose whether to participate in the live call. Participants were asked two questions, according to IACI President Alex LaBeau, basically: “Do you support education reform?” and “Do you support raising taxes or not?” The reform question did not specifically mention the Luna-Otter “Students Come First” plan/Dan Popkey, Idaho Statesman. More here. (AP Photo/Idaho Press-Tribune, Charlie Litchfield)

Question: What do you make of Idaho's largest business group bankrolling a telephone town hall, featuring Gov. Butch Otter, Superintendent Tom Luna, and the 2 education chairman pushing ed 'reform'?

First Lady Defends Luna Ed ‘Reform’

Whether you have been at the head of the classroom or in a desk on the other end, you know the importance of quality teaching. It makes all the difference. With the help of a great teacher, a struggling student can excel. Under an ineffective teacher, that student may never catch up. We know this from our own school experiences, as well as extensive research. The teacher is and always will be the most important factor in student success. If we truly want to put students first, we have to make sure we invest in Idaho’s teachers.  That’s exactly what the Students Come First plan does. As a former teacher, I am excited about the possibilities this plan provides for great teachers now and in the future. Some have claimed this plan “devalues teachers.” That couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s the only option that actually invests in teachers/Lori Otter, Office of the First Lady. More here. (AP file photo of Gov. Otter and Miss Lori)

Question: Why do you think proponents are rolling out the heavy hitters like First Lady Lori Otter to defend Tom Luna's radical education “reform” plans? After all, they're winning the legislative battle.

Wasden, Otter Support N-Shipments

A recent agreement with the federal government could put Idaho at the forefront of a “resurgence” in nuclear reactor research, Gov. Butch Otter and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said today. In a joint guest opinion, Otter and Wasden defend a decision that allows the Department of Energy to ship limited quantities of used nuclear reactor fuel to Idaho for research. They say the deal, announced Jan. 6, does not compromise a 1995 nuclear waste cleanup agreement forged by former Gov. Phil Batt/Kevin Richert, Idaho Statesman. More here.

Question: Does this send a message that Idaho has changed its mind re: being a repository for nuclear waste?

Mental Health Services Faces Cuts

The economic downturn has left deep scars on Idaho's public services for the mentally ill, including efforts to help some of the state's most-vulnerable children. Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter's recommended budget for the Department of Health and Welfare's mental health services division for fiscal year 2012 is $32.4 million, down 4.6 percent from 2011 and a full 19 percent less than in 2008. The division has laid off or left unfilled 35 full time positions to assist adults with mental health problems, and another 14 positions to help kids/Associated Press via Betsy Russell/Eye On Boise. More here.

Question: Is this a good time to be cutting mental health services?

Otter Picks Geddes For Tax Panel

“He has my total confidence and my appreciation,” Gov. Butch Otter said of Sen. Bob Geddes, his choice to be the next chairman of the state Tax Commission. “Bob has great respect in the Legislature, I think he has great respect all over Idaho. I have found that wherever I go, and a high level of confidence that not only comes from both sides of the rotunda but both sides of the aisle”/Betsy Russell, Eye on Boise. More here.

Question: What does Geddes have to do to restore your confidence in the Idaho Tax Commission?

Otter to name Geddes head of Tax Commish

Gov. Butch Otter is about to hold a press conference, the press is assembled, and his staff has just passed out the written announcement: He'll be naming Sen. Bob Geddes, R-Soda Springs, to be the next chairman of the Idaho State Tax Commission.

More Than 300 Make More Than Guv

Almost 300 state employees now earn more than the governor does, according to the latest “Rainbow Report” from the state controller’s office. That’s a three-fold increase just in the last decade, largely due to higher salaries for university administrators, deans and coaches. The annual report provides a snapshot of state employment at the beginning of each year. It details how many people work for the various state agency; lists salaries for the governor, lawmakers, department heads and other state officials; and identifies those who earn more than Idaho’s chief executive. Gov. Otter and the other constitutional officers actually took a pay cut this year, due to ongoing revenue shortfalls. The governor’s salary dropped 4 percent, from $115,348 last year to $110,734 this year/Bill Spence, Political Theater, Lewiston Tribune. More here.

Question: Should a state worker earn more than the Idaho governor?

Idaho State Government Is Shrinking

Idaho’s state government workforce is at levels close to the year 2000, except for some anomalies at public universities. A headcount of Idaho state employees by the state controller this month shows the state has 23,986 employees, down from a high of 25,557 three years ago. “We have cut government considerably,” said Gov. Butch Otter’s spokesman Jon Hanian. The governor has called for reductions in state operations in his recent speeches and during his re-election campaign. “It shows the governor is not only talking the talk but walking the walk”/Brad Iverson-Long, Idaho Reporter. More here.

Question: Is there still room for more cuts in Idaho government?

Otter’s Wrecking-Ball Budget Ripped

The House and Senate minority caucuses held a press conference this morning to give their response to the governor's State of the State message and budget. “In the face of enormous challenges and widespread economic hardship, the governor and many legislators have no plans to do anything significant,” declared Senate Minority Leader Edgar Malepeai, D-Pocatello. “In fact, rather than being proactive, they've simply strengthened their resolve to dismantle the very public structures that help create prosperity”/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise. More here.

Question: Is Minority Leader Edgar Malepeai's criticism on Gov. Butch Otter's budget correct — that Otter's simply trying to 'dismantle public structures that help create prosperity'?

Luna, Otter Plan To Overhaul Ed?

Three years after lawmakers rejected their $21 million pay-for-performance plan for K-12 teachers, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna (pictured) and Gov. Butch Otter are upping the ante. Re-election behind them, the two have quietly designed reforms to school finance, teacher tenure, digital learning and measurement of student performance that Luna said aim at setting national and world standards. And they appear ready to carry them out without any additional money for public schools. Republican leaders in the Legislature were briefed last week but sworn to secrecy until Wednesday at 8:30 a.m., when Luna will present the plan to Senate and House education committees. “Watch and listen,” said House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star/Dan Popkey, Idaho Statesman. More here.

Question: Does the Idaho education system need an overhaul?

Otter Backs Bill To Lower Income Tax

Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, wants to reduce personal and business income taxes in Idaho, lure businesses to the state, and ultimately increase overall tax revenues for Idaho and he is getting support for his plan in a big way. Gov. Butch Otter backed the proposal in his State of the State address in at the Capitol in Boise Monday, mentioning Hagedorn by name. Hagedorn’s bill is a 10-year plan that would lower personal and corporate income taxes in the state to a flat 4.9 percent, making it one of the lowest rates in the United States/Dustin Hurst, Idaho Reporter. More here.

Question: Would you like to see a flat rate of 4.9 percent be used to determine Idaho income taxes?

Otter: ‘No Time For More Taxes’

The governor said his proposed budget for fiscal year 2012 is “based on a modest but responsible 3 percent growth rate in our state revenue.” That's despite the fact that his own Division of Financial Management economists are forecasting 6.9 percent more in tax revenue will come into state coffers in fiscal 2012. Otter is proposing to budget to just the 3 percent figure - leaving $91 million on the table if the state's forecasts prove true. Lawmakers have been pessimistic about forecasts since revenues fell short in the past few years/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise. More here. And: text of speech here.

Question: Do you have high hopes for 2011 Legislature?

Chigbrow resignation came after allegations of intervening in tax cases

Idaho Tax Commission Chairman Royce Chigbrow resigned Friday after employees at the agency said he intervened in tax cases involving clients of his son's accounting firm as well as for a friend and political supporter, the AP reports. Click below for the full article from AP reporter John Miller.

Otter accepts Chigbrow’s resignation

Gov. Butch Otter just announced that he's accepted the resignation of Royce Chigbrow as chairman of the Idaho State Tax Commission. Here's Otter's statement:

“Royce has been my friend and trusted adviser for a number of years. He was kind enough to enter the arena of public service at my request, and I applaud his hard work, knowledge and expertise in that role. I wish him all the best in his future endeavors.”

Otter: Going To Stay Cost Cut Course

In his second inaugaral address, Gov. Butch Otter said today: “Over the next four years you can expect my administration to keep building partnerships for addressing some of our most pressing challenges, to keep clearing the way for entrepreneurs to create more career opportunities and to keep protecting our Idaho way of life,” the governor said. “You will see that what started as emergency measures taken in response to the great rec'ession's impact on Idaho become standard operating practices of our state government, permament changes in how we have done business, aimed at leaving a smaller, better defined and more constructive imprint on our people's lives”/Betsy Russell, Eye On Boise. More here (including photo).

Question: What would you most like to see Butch Otter do in his second term?

Governor inaugurated, on to session…

Here's a link to my full story at spokesman.com on Gov. Butch Otter's second inauguration today, which came amid hoopla, booming cannons and an A-10 jet flyover on the state Capitol steps. Otter pledged to turn the emergency measures the state has taken to cope with a huge economic downturn into “standard operating practices” for his administration, as he started his second four-year term leading the state. You can read the full text of the governor's speech here.

Stage set for inauguration today

The stage is set, the 25th Army Band is playing, and a giant American flag has been strung up on the front of the state capitol for today's inaugural festivities. At noon Boise time, Idaho's 46th inauguration will begin. Gov. Butch Otter and all other state constitutional officers will take the oath of office, administered by Idaho Supreme Court Chief Justice Daniel Eismann, and Otter will give his second inaugural address.

Pow-Farm: Butch Botched Wolf Issue

Powder Farmer: I'm so friggin' tired of the rhetoric on both sides of the wolf issue, the hyberbole, ridiculous claims(250 lb non-native killing machine), never ending lawsuits, fundraising to sustain $200K executive positions (see DOW and EJ Form 990s, non-profit my arse). Otter's action wasn't clever, defiant maybe, but not clever. He essentially put all of his eggs in the federal delisting of wolves through Congress. And I thought Otter didn't want the feds in Idaho. He turned management back over to the Feds. Real 10th Amendment stuff right there.

Question: Do you still follow the seemingly never-ending wolf debate?

Sho-Con: Has Butch Sold Out?

Shoshone Conservative: I've always wondered what happened to Otter in the last few years - as Congressman, he (along with Larry Craig, too, actually) was couragous in speaking out against the abuses of the Patriot Act (being the only Republican besides Ron Paul to vote against it), and did a fairly good job of trying to resist federal encroachment on State powers. He was on the Right Wing of the Republican Party, leaning toward libertarian, but he wasn't radical or a wingnut, either. Now, he reminds me of the Governor on the old TV show Benson. He's even gotten a FEDERAL Judge to swear him in as Governor both times, for Heaven's sake. He's gone from “maverick” (to use a tired cliche) to very much “establishment.”

Question: Has Butch Otter changed from his days as a maverick Idaho congressman?

PM: Otter Sworn In To Second Term

Idaho Gov. C. L. “Butch” Otter is sworn in by U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge during a private ceremony for his second term at the Statehouse in Boise today. Eye On Boise coverage here, and: Idaho Statesman story here. (AP Photo/The Idaho Statesman, Joe Jaszewski)

Question: What do you expect from Gov. Butch Otter in his second term that will be different from his first four years in office?

Allred stays focused on citizens’ interests

Keith Allred, left, talks with 1st District Rep. Walt Minnick during a picnic for Canyon County Democrats  July 10 in Nampa, Idaho.

BOISE – Before Keith Allred ran for governor of Idaho, the former Harvard University professor was becoming an increasingly common sight in Idaho’s state Capitol, where he spent five years lobbying for what he called “the common interest” on behalf of his nonpartisan citizens group.

Allred brought together people of all political stripes from throughout the state into a group that collectively studied and debated issues, and where they reached broad consensus, he lobbied for those positions in the state Legislature, with some notable successes.

Now, after running on the Democratic ticket and losing to Republican Gov. Butch Otter, Allred says he plans to focus on business consulting work for the next two to three years, but he says the idea of the common interest isn’t over – and he still hopes to expand it nationwide. More here.  Betsy Russell

Land Board convenes in state Capitol

The state Land Board has convened in the Idaho Capitol Auditorium this morning, with agenda items including addressing the issue of the “split estate” - the situation in which the state owns lakefront cabin sites, but private owners own the cabins they build and use on them. So far, state Endowment Fund manager Larry Johnson has given an update on endowment fund earnings. “November was a month in which the fund essentially broke even,” Johnson told the board, though December so far is up 3 percent. Through November, earnings for the fiscal year on endowment investment funds were at 13.5 percent, but now, as of yesterday, they’re at roughly 17 percent, Johnson said.

Johnson now is addressing a series of questions about distribution policy and investment management submitted by state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna. Among them: How to ensure that once an endowment fund fills its reserves, that the interests of current and future beneficiaries are equally weighted. Johnson said the endowment board has made a change in its distribution calculation to ensure that happens. However, Johnson said the public school fund is currently tipping the balance a bit to current beneficiaries over future ones. As income in the fund recovers, distributions may need to be increased more slowly to address that, he said; if income doesn’t grow, “a reduction in the distribution rate may be necessary.” That’s not likely what Luna wanted to hear.