Legislature: Gov. Otter’s State of the State

by Judy Ferro

 

For the first 30 minutes of Gov. Butch Otter’s State of the State Address, he sounded like a pretty good Democrat.

Urging that we “do the right thing for the next generation,” Otter supported funding for public school programs ranging from teacher pay to classroom technology and school counsellors. He spoke with pride of the coming STEM Action Center to assist in bringing activities mingling science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to classrooms.

Of course, a really great Democrat would have supported public kindergarten and small class sizes, but good is good. Amazing, really.   .

Otter then declared it was time to quit shortchanging our colleges. He wants a new task force to set goals for higher education. He asked legislators to set aside $35 million to fund new buildings at five campuses and to fund expansion of programs for such “in-demand career fields as energy, computer science and the health professions,” including the medical residency program of a private medical college coming to Meridian.

He left it to the task force to deal with tuition rates that discourage many potential students and the miserable pay of adjunct instructors. And he left it to local voters to fund expansion of the College of Western Idaho and a proposed “full-fledged community college” in Idaho Falls.

Yet, all in all, Otter took a giant step toward achieving the 60 percent go-on rate for high school graduates. Democratic legislators expressed both support for his vision and doubt that his party will go along.

Otter continued to talk like a good Democrat for another couple beats. He pointed out that Behavioral Health Crisis Centers in Idaho Falls, Coeur d’Alene and Twin Falls “are providing significant savings on law enforcement responses and hospital costs” and asked for funding for a Boise clinic.

Then he praised the Idaho National Laboratory’s work on cyber security and recommended a cooperative program with Idaho’s universities.

And, in a move guaranteed to bring howls from ALEC and the Idaho Freedom Foundation, Otter argued as far as cutting taxes was concerned, we’d been there and done that.

Then Otter put on his Republican hat.

Otter advised against expanding Medicaid to the 78,000 Idahoans in the “gap” population, Instead, he advised “continuing to build local partnerships and encouraging marketplace innovations that address our Idaho goals of improving health-care accessibility and affordability.”

Do you have any idea what that means? Maybe medical practices should charge peanuts for their own insurance plans? Or open free clinics a couple days a month?

Basically, Idahoans are to rely on an alternative that Republicans have failed to find for six years.

This was followed by speculations that the incoming Trump administration will give the states more say and enact reforms to keep the “EPA, BLM, Forest Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in check.”

Ironically, the examples Otter cited of stepping up Idaho’s participation in management of public lands did not refer to a Trump agenda, but to programs enacted under Obama which encourage the state and ranchers to practice fire prevention and suppression. I’d pity Otter for his naïve trust that Republican domination means his vision of federalism will become reality if I didn’t remember he has never championed power for counties or cities.

Strangely, Otter’s speech said nothing about roads and bridges.

Or about jobs in communities where unemployment remains high.

Still, the State of the State called on this year’s legislators to act for Idahoans, not party. Now it’s up to us to see they follow through.