"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

Stability and predictability

Butch Otter

Consider this sentence from the middle of Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter‘s just-concluded state of the state speech:

“Along with responsibly balancing our budget, there is no task before us more important than improving Idaho’s economy. That does not mean government spending. It means stability. It means predictability.”

In the governor himself, not least. If in 1980 you’d offered the prediction of Otter, then as now a small-L libertarian, as governor in 2010, and asked what his state of the state speech might be like … the prediction probably wouldn’t have missed the reality by a lot.

So, lots of talk about no tax increases (keeping money in the pockets of the people), about government austerity, about the evils that the east-coast Washington is raining down on, among other places, common-sense Idaho. Fed-bashing was at least as large a part of this speech as any of Otter’s other state of the states.

The speech, which was a budget speech as well as state of the state (though lighter on the budget material than some of its predecessors have been), was studded through with various ideas for change and even innovation. But they felt like necessary add ons; the larger point seemed to be (and was expressed by Otter) as a desire to drive on steadily, with the largest changes being just how much acceleration to put in. That, he suggested, is what the voters of Idaho endorsed in November.

Higher education (a central engine in economic development) was one example. Here’s Otter on colleges an universities, an area already severely slashed in recent years:

One area of our State budget where there are private‐sector options to partially offset our need for greater public austerity is higher education.

I understand the arguments. I’ve heard them wherever I go – “We should be investing in our future.” … “We’re being penny wise and pound foolish.” …  “We’re shortchanging our own economic development opportunities.”  
I’m sure all of us would like to put more money into our colleges and universities.  

I appreciate your commitment to maintaining our Opportunity Scholarship Fund’s corpus.

And I look forward to the time when we can resume building on that account to ensure money is never a barrier to qualified students going on after high school. 
With that in mind, I also want to thank the Albertson Foundation for its continuing generosity in supporting Idaho education programs, and advocating for our students to broaden their educational horizons.

Still, the fact is that tough choices – and changes – have to be made.
And higher education does have some built‐in constituencies that can provide alternatives to a higher level of General Fund support.  

Which translates to: Universities, hit the beggar trail.

A couple of relatively fresh themes emerged. Gone from a previous speech was the long list of wonderful corporate CEOs who made things happen; that was replaced with “the energy and the enthusiasm of folks in Twin Falls” (and elsewhere). And a sub-theme of community was woven in; Otter may have picked up on the campaign discussion that his brand of libertarianism doesn’t always look much toward the idea of community.

The tension was pointed up in this remarkable bit: “It’s time to become family again. It’s time we accept one of the greatest burdens and greatest opportunities that our Creator gave us, and that is personal responsibility. It all begins with us – the individual – and how we decide to fulfill the role of being our brother’s keeper.”

There’s material here to wrestle with. But it wasn’t developed. And it wasn’t the core theme of the speech: “It means stability. It means predictability.”

This is not an Idaho Legislature likely to dissent much from that.

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