Some Idaho SOS remarks

No great surprises in the state of the state speech today by Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter – not much to rebut, either, the recent reports that he’s been phoning it in of late. Running through the speech, here’s some of what jumped out.

Toward the beginning, a detailed status report on Idaho’s troops sent overseas, noting the return of the Idaho National Guard 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team and the Army Reserve’s 391st Engineer Company, and sending callouts to individuals. It was a more detailed depiction than you usually hear in a speech like this, and a nice touch.

Other areas were a little more debatable.

After the fiscal decisions of the last few years, he said, “the result is a state government that does not face and will not face the staggering deficits, layoffs, shutdowns, tax increases and other problems that are plaguing other states … We are not here just to get by. We are here to enable the people we serve to get ahead.”

To accept that, you have to forget about the massive budget cuts the state underwent last session, teacher and classroom cutbacks and much more. There were no tax increases – a from-the-beginning decision – but that decision came with extensive cost.

Otter talked about state efforts to bring in new business to the state. (And there have been some, though from here the patterns look not a lot different than in Washington and Oregon.) He also brought up the IGEM (Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission), still not defined at the granular level but described: “IGEM involves industry, entrepreneurs, higher education, the Idaho National Laboratory and the Center for Advanced Energy Studies. Together, their focus will be on creating value on our campuses that will help our existing businesses grow, nurture the startup of new businesses, and create more jobs and opportunities for Idaho.”

As in so many institutions around the country, Idaho’s colleges and universities have in the last few decades developed an ever-closer relationship with large businesses, to the point in some cases where it can be hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. IGEM will be worth watching: What exactly is it supposed to do that the universities aren’t already doing? And is it a good idea?

Otter also called for a start in refilling the state reserve accounts – though what the budgetary tradeoffs for that may mean is not clear.

And he made mention of the health insurance exchange, one of the hottest topics for his administration in the last month (and the subject of some revolt among a number of Republicans). The plain text of what he has to say about it is a good deal softer than some of his statements over the last few months have suggested. In this speech, referring to the application for a federal grant for the exchange, Otter said his action “simply preserved the opportunity for you and all Idahoans to discuss our options and decide what’s best for our citizens.” (Emphasis Otter’s.) Not exactly a fierce defense of an exchange.

And so the session begins.

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