Press "Enter" to skip to content

Posts published in “Day: April 20, 2009”

Trench warfare is joined

Ooo . . .kay. The last post, about the possibility of Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter doing some smackdown and drawing a hard line for the lawmakers - if he vetoes a stack of eight key budget bills - needs to be superseded. This morning, the vetoes were something he said he might do on Thursday. This afternoon, he did it - the bills are vetoed.

Legislative reaction seems to be as you might expect: They're not happy, and the operating majority in the House - which is the rampart against Otter's transportation request - sounds as if it is determined to hang in there. Which means, since there are no budget bills in operation, that both sides have locked into trench warfare.

Trench warfare is a matter of attrition, of patience, of holding out longer than the other guy. In this case, since the governor is a full timer who reports to the work every day whatever happens, and since the legislators are part-timers who have other work to do, the advantage seems to lie with the governor. That suggests that legislators are the ones to cave, except that they did that before, in the term of Governor Dirk Kempthorne, and they may loathe to let this become a pattern.

Do they have any options, any edge? That's unclear, but here's one thought (and don't count this as a prediction they'll try to do it).

The two houses of the legislature cannot adjourn, in effect, for more than three days at a time. But suppose they did that - meet in pro forma, quorum-satisfying, sessions briefly once every three days. They could keep on doing that for quite a while, especially since so many legislators live within an hour's drive or so of the statehouse. They could keep doing that for months.

In July, a new fiscal year begins, and agencies - all of them - will need an operating budget. Imagine a game of fiscal chicken running up to June 30 . . .

The mind boggles.

75-hour warning


Otter at the veto announcement

If his initial statement didn't make matters totally clear, the answers to reporter questions certainly did: Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter is staring down the legislature, for "as long as it takes" to get transportation funding, that he feels adequate, in place.

That wasn't obvious from his prepared statement, which accompanied two bill vetoes, of House Bill 161 and House Bill 245, neither of them a really major piece of legislation. (One has to do with chains of notification in case of security breaches, and other establishing a new Parents as Teachers program.)

Later on, though, he pointed to a stack of eight bills on his desk - budget bills - and made clear that he was prepared to do to them what he had done to this morning's two, if he and legislators didn't come to agreement. Budgets are the one thing the Idaho Legislature are obliged to wrap up before they can adjourn, and that threat to veto amounted to a threat to just keep the legislature there . . . for a while.

He corrected a reporter to make the point that the legislators were "friends," but also pointedly mentioned that the Idaho Senate (which has been relatively agreeable to his proposals) has been "responsible," while leaving out comparable mention of the Idaho House.

The budget bills have to be acted upon by the governor by mid-afternoon on Thursday. Otter said explicitly that if he and legislators don't reach agreement, they'll be vetoed. And if the legislators pass something new and just adjourn? He would be amenable to a special session, at which he can set the subjects available for discussion - which would be transportation funding. But suppose the legislators still refused to pass a bill? At that point, Otter broke new ground: He would not rule out calling them back, and back again, and again, until they do.

"Some legislators there need to be reminded there are three branches of government," he said.

None of this comes out of nowhere. Otter has been signaling since last year his seriousness about transportation funding, and has been dropping hints, with gradually diminished subtlety, that he would press seriously on this issue. But he seems, up to now, to have been hoping that giving legislators a little maneuver room, rather than backing them into a corner, might be the way to achieve results. That's over. They - or more precisely, the Idaho House, which is the locus of opposition to added transportation funding - are being pressed. They now seem positioned more probably for a long-term waiting game, rather than a quick adjournment.

"I'm prepared to stay as long as I have to, to get responsible legislation," Otter said.

Full-time governors have the advantage over part-time legislators in such cases, as everyone learned in 2003, when the longest-ever legislation session in Idaho history was held, under nearly identical circumstances. Today, you could get even money on this year's session running even longer than that one. (more…)