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Eye on Boise: Otter prefers ‘user-pay’ funding for transportation needs

As Idaho’s legislative session pushes into its home stretch, Gov. Butch Otter has laid out “parameters” on transportation funding, one big issue on which the House and Senate are at odds.

Otter said he’d call transportation funding “the going-home bill.”

The governor said he has these “parameters” in mind:

1) “We need to stay out of the general fund.”

2) It must include a “significant step toward revenue needs.”

3) “I’d like to keep it user-pay,” which Otter defined as “registration and gas tax.”

Otter said he’s hoping for a multiple-year solution to Idaho’s $262 million-a-year road and bridge maintenance backlog, just as lawmakers approved a five-year plan to boost teacher pay; he signed that bill into law last week.

Asked about tax reform, which joined transportation funding at the top of House GOP leaders’ priority list, he said, “Tax reform is going to be a little tougher this year. I think most everybody recognizes that we have made a commitment” to increase education funding. He added, “If you look at some of the bills that I have turned down or not signed, it’s because I don’t want to see them shrink the general fund.”

About those limericks…

For years, reporters covering Idaho’s legislative session have donned notoriously ugly ties when they believe the session has run long enough and ought to end. In recent years, I’ve added a version of my own: penning bad poetry. More legislative limericks are likely next week. Here’s the current crop:

Lawmakers take Good Friday off

They’ll try a long weekend away

In hopes of a happier day

Then when they’re back

Perhaps they’ll be on track

For their sine die judgment day.

The saga of HB 311

Across the rotunda it flew

The pride of one party’s top two

To fall with a splat

As senators said “What’s that?”

And that’s what our lawmakers do.

The Veto of HB 126

Rep. Boyle did pen an op-ed

State leaders and cronies, she said

Are running amok

On the taxpayers’ clock

Now her latest bill winds up dead.

He said it on Public TV

The guv says that he has two stamps

For bills that he looks at askance

One’s V – E – T – O

And one’s V – I – T – O

And that’s all the warning he grants.

On the Uber bill …

For Boiseans wanting a ride

Their city has mightily tried

To develop some regs

’Til a lobbyist begs

Now lawmakers say they’ll preside.

Selfies with the guv

Ilah Hickman and her friends got to take selfies with the governor last week, after he signed into law HB 1, the 14-year-old’s long-sought bill to designate the Idaho giant salamander as the state amphibian. “There ya are, kiddo, it’s all done,” Gov. Butch Otter told Ilah after signing the bill, adding, “Good job!”

Afterward, Otter posed for pictures with Ilah and her family and friends, at one point putting his arm around her shoulder and telling her, “You didn’t think I was going to veto it? No, no, you didn’t.”

The youngster first began pushing for the salamander as Idaho’s state amphibian after learning about state symbols in the fourth  grade. She’s now an eighth-grader – and an accomplished citizen lobbyist whom many lawmakers have repeatedly advised to consider, sometime in the future, running for office.

Labor logjam broken

A tiff between the governor and lawmakers apparently has been resolved, one that had held up consideration of the budget for the state Department of Labor. The bill has been pulled back and replaced with an identical one that has different wording in a section of legislative intent that bars the department from closing any of its local offices.

The department had suggested that with falling federal funding, it might need to close various local offices in communities across the state. Lawmakers strongly objected.

Jani Revier, Otter’s budget chief, said Otter was concerned that the wording might have required the department to refill 17 positions reduced through attrition since July 1, because it said, “The Department of Labor shall maintain the same number of local offices and provide the same or similar level of services as provided July 1, 2014.” She said the problem was with the “same or similar” phrase.

Revier said the governor’s proposed alternative wording “would keep offices open in each of the communities where they currently are.” But, she said, “The offices in some communities may change, the square footage may change, the number of people in some of the offices may change.”

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee reluctantly agreed to the new wording last week, calling the differences “subtle.” Several members said they remain concerned about the impact of the department’s reorganization on rural and small-town Idaho residents.

Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog, online at spokesman.com/blogs/boise.