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Slice and cut

Butch Otter

C.L. “Butch” Otter

C.L. “Butch” Otter, Idaho’s governor, has long been a cut-taxes-less-government kinda guy, but some of his recent statements suggested that he might try to find ways in the next year’s state budget to avoid really massive, overwhelming cuts. And he may well have tried. But great big cuts are the hallmark of what he has proposed to the Idaho Legislature today.

Consider this slice from early in the speech:

The budget recommendation you received today includes a General Fund allocation for public schools that is about 5-and-one-third percent less than this year’s appropriation. However, the $1 billion, 425 million I’m proposing for K-through-12 education next year still represents almost half our total General Fund budget.

And the fact is that my proposed public schools budget is reduced FAR less than I’m recommending for other state agencies. For example, my General Fund budget proposal for Health and Welfare is down 71⁄2 percent. Higher education is down almost 10 percent; the departments of Correction and Water Resources each are down almost 12 percent. The Department of Agriculture recommendation is down more than 31 percent, Commerce more than 51 percent, and Parks and Recreation almost 56 percent.

He also declined to have any truck with the state’s rainy day funds; there may be, he suggested, a lot of rainy days.

As conservative as the Idaho Legislature is, there may be some dispute about some of this.

From there, he spoke of Project 60, a broad-based effort to increase Idaho’s economic output, “nurturing a new generation of entrepreneurial giants. We want to encourage and create a climate that enables visionaries like the Simplots, Albertsons and Morrisons of yesterday – and like the Parkinsons, Hagadones, Vandersloots and Sayers of our own generation – to create more jobs and brighter futures for Idaho families and communities.”

Project 60? It refers to a plan to increase Idaho’s gross domestic product to $60 billion from its current $51 billion. How would it work? Here’s a relatively clear description (clearer than most) from the Idaho Falls Chamber of Commerce:

· The first priority involves making Idaho’s business climate more attractive by cultivating a highly skilled workforce, establishing a method to get the incredible research being done at our research institutions to the consumer market, and improving our transportation and information infrastructure.
· Accomplishing these goals will make domestic and international recruitment of investment easier.
· Domestically, we will build on our recent recruitment successes (Areva), specifically targeting firms that will work well with our traditional industries.
· In addition, our efforts will reach internationally, not only selling Idaho’s products to the world, but also selling Idaho itself as a great place for foreign sources of capital to invest their dollars.

Premised, in other words, on a workforce being trained in schools whose budgets are being cut, and jobs grown from research at state institutions whose budgets are being cut even more . . . and so on.

Otter does get into the issues of housing foreclosures and the need for transportation improvements (for the latter, he is talking about a tax/fee increase package). For these elements headed in a different direction, Otter is likely to generate some more discussion.

And some more in an organizational reshuffle, changing the job description of the state Board of Education. His proposal looks as if it has some merit, but it is not likely to go over especially smoothly.

Taken as a whole, this was a speech to get the Idaho Legislature off with a bang.

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