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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.

UPDATE Although I described the bills as relatively minor – compared to major budget items – that doesn’t mean no one cares about them. There’s this from the legislative Democrats (in email, hence no link):

“As elected officials, we are tasked with solving a broad range of problems on behalf of Idaho’s citizens. Yet the Governor and other Republican leaders are more interested in power plays than solving problems,” Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly said today, after Gov. Butch Otter vetoed two bills. “In this critical time Idaho needs leaders and statesmen in charge.”

“We are living in a time when Idaho’s challenges are becoming more serious and more complex. As legislators, we are tasked with handling many issues at once,” added House Minority Leader John Rusche. “More than 51,000 Idahoans wake up every day without a job. Our public schools are facing unprecedented cuts, and homebound seniors are losing needed services and medicine.”

“Yet today, the governor vetoed two bills that had broad bipartisan support: one that recognizes the importance of parents as teachers and another that protects Idahoans against identity theft,” Rusche said. “We question whether killing important bills is the best way to achieve the cooperation and collaboration that Idahoans deserve from their elected officials.”

“We need leaders who are willing to work openly and responsibly to solve the problems facing Idaho and achieve our goals, not players who are more interested in scoring points for themselves than doing their best for the Idahoans they were sent to Boise to represent,” Kelly added.

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