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Eye On Boise

Guv makes unprecedented visit to GOP caucus

Gov. Butch Otter made an unprecedented visit to the state Capitol's fourth floor today to huddle behind closed doors with the House GOP caucus over the recent House-Senate clash over a 1 percent cost-of-living increase for state retirees; House Republicans pushed through a measure to block the COLA, only to see Senate leaders let it die. Otter then told the Idaho Press Club yesterday that sticking with the 1 percent COLA was "smart." Click below to read a full report from AP reporter John Miller.

Otter, House GOP meet privately over pension vote
By JOHN MILLER, Associated Press Writer

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter on Thursday sent a conflicting message when he met privately with unhappy House Republicans after he backed the Senate's move not to block a 1 percent pension hike for 33,000 government retirees.

Otter aides didn't specify what he told House Republicans, who historically are also reticent to speak about their private caucuses.

"What Gov. Otter told the House is between him and the House members who were there," Jon Hanian, his spokesman, told The Associated Press in an e-mail.

Still, some of those who attended, including House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, said Otter indicated he was on their side: He understood there had been a deal between the Senate and House to block the pension increase. That deal unraveled, and Otter wanted to make clear he played no part in its demise.

"The governor went up there to make it clear that he understood we had a deal and it needed to be fixed," Moyle said. "All sides had agreed to it. In fact, it was the Senate that was pushing this more than us."

But in comments Wednesday at an Idaho Press Club event, Otter contended "it was smart that we went ahead with the 1 percent."

He said he understood the "caution of the Legislature" but that "when you take a look at how many years we could totally fund that ... we're really in very good shape."

After listening to a recording of Otter's comments, Moyle said Thursday that he disagreed with the governor's characterization of the health of the fund.

House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, said Otter arranged to meet with the 52-Republican caucus Thursday to defuse any lingering tensions from the pension fight that could interfere with the 2010 session's business.

"What he basically was saying was, he didn't throw us under the bus," said Denney, R-Midvale. "It's done. We've got a lot of tough decisions to make. Let's get over it and get on with setting the budget."

House Republicans led last week's 48-19 vote to cancel the hike, arguing the $10 billion pension fund needs a respite from more stresses. They also believe it's inappropriate for the pension fund to boost active government employees' contributions to the pension fund about 32 percent through 2013, as the fund's managers plan to do, at a time when they are facing layoffs, furloughs and pay cuts.

But senators balked, deciding the pension fund board's unanimous decision on Dec. 8 to approve the increase for retirees was responsible. A union representing Idaho government workers, as well as AARP, applauded the Senate's decision to stick to that plan Tuesday.

Otter's move on Thursday to meet with GOP representatives in the middle of a legislative session is virtually unprecedented, lawmakers said. Rep. Tom Loertscher, a 22-year veteran of the Legislature, said he's never before seen a governor stride into House chambers for a heart-to-heart chat.

Loertscher, one of the main proponents of blocking the hike for fear the Legislature will eventually have to step in and make it whole, said he still believes the House was right and the Senate and Otter were wrong.

"The number of people retiring is going up," Loertscher said. "Cash flow is going down. That's still a problem."

Still, Loertscher said he won't let it get in the way of finishing the session's business and accepted Otter's rare visit as a signal that the governor shares that concern.

"He knows what time it is. We've got a terrible budget to resolve, and we've got to get it done right and quickly," Loertscher said. "We haven't got time to fool around and delay the session."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

Eye On Boise

News, happenings and more from the Idaho Legislature and the state capital.