By KIMBERLEE KRUESI, Associated Press
BOISE â€” Idaho Gov. C.L. â€śButchâ€ť Otter on Monday promised he was leaving Idaho in a better place than when he found it nearly 12 years ago, ticking off a long list of challenges heâ€™s had to overcome as head of state that included natural disasters, political division and economic recession.
The Republican governor struck a reflective tone during his 12th and final State of the State address to lawmakers. Known as the official kickoff to the legislative session, the 55-minute speech â€” his longest ever during his annual address to lawmaker â€” focused on the hard lessons heâ€™s learned throughout the three terms in Idahoâ€™s highest elected position.
â€śWith the benefit of experience earned through the patience and confidence of Idaho voters, today I have a more nuanced view of the proper role of government,â€ť Otter said. â€śI have always understood its limitations and its flaws. But now I also know its possibilities, when responsibly led, for helping individual citizens realize their full potential. None of us can afford to dismiss the latter because we are hamstrung by the former.â€ť
Come December, Otter will end more than four decades of being an elected official. Noting the looming change, Otterâ€™s budget even includes a line item for $15,000 to help cover governor-elect transition costs.
Yet, despite his term approaching an end, Otter still laid out a long list of goals for the upcoming 2018 session.
Overall, the governor is proposing a 6.62 percent increase from last yearâ€™s budget. This would bring the state budget to $3.66 billion in fiscal year 2019, which starts in July and goes until the end of June 2019.
As constitutionally required, the majority of the budget proposed by Otter would be spent on education. This includes increasing public schools funding by 6.03 percent, or by $123 million. This includes $42 million more to help boost teacherâ€™s salaries.
As were his priorities during his first State of the State address in 2007, tax cuts and education highlighted the majority of Otterâ€™s agenda for the upcoming legislative session. Otter proposed a $200 million tax cut package that includes reducing the stateâ€™s income and corporate tax rate, as well as adding an $85 child tax credit.
The announcement comes at a time when tax officials are warning lawmakers that Idaho taxpayers could end up paying roughly $100 million more next year as a result of the Republican tax overhaul that President Donald Trump signed into law last month.
Separately, Otter is once again pushing lawmakers to reduce a key component in how Idaho calculates the unemployment insurance tax rate because the trust fund Idaho uses to pay unemployment benefits has more money than it needs to survive an economic crisis. Lawmakers failed to take up the governorâ€™s request last year.
â€śWe must never forget that itâ€™s the peopleâ€™s money. So I will gladly join you in reducing individual and corporate income tax rates with an eye toward stimulating more economic growth,â€ť Otter said. â€śBut that must be accomplished while keeping our fiscal house in order and our investments for the future on track.â€ť
The idea stems from various recommendations submitted by a task force appointed by the governor to review the stateâ€™s postsecondary access and completion. The proposal has also been endorsed by a handful of business executives, who sent a letter to Otter urging him to adopt the idea because of the growing need to have a better skilled workforce in Idaho.
According to Otterâ€™s budget, the CEO will have a $200,000 annual salary, as well as an additional $500,000 in one-time consulting costs.
Included in Otterâ€™s speech was support for a new proposal for Idaho to apply for two federal waivers that would change how the stateâ€™s working poor can qualify for health insurance subsidies or Medicaid. Doing so would provide medical coverage to an estimated 38,000 Idahoans and slash premiums by up to 20 percent.
â€śSo in my last legislative session as your governor, I am making one final attempt. No longer should this body use my agreement not to act alone on Obamacare issues as a way to stop progress that will benefit Idaho citizens,â€ť Otter said, chiding lawmakers for refusing to find a solution to Idahoans who donâ€™t qualify for health care. â€śWe can no longer wait on Congress. This issue is too pressing.â€ť
State lawmakers will now spend the next few months in Boise working to balance the state budget and pass legislation.