Otter's legislative wins, losses, compromises

Idaho StatesmanApril 1, 2007 

In his first State of the State speech in January, Gov. Butch Otter listed 12 major goals for the 2007 legislative session, including second-year bonding authority for the Connecting Idaho highway initiative. And while he didn't list it in his speech, his budget also called for eliminating planned underground Statehouse wings.

Here's how lawmakers responded to his ideas in the session that ended Friday.

Targeted grocery tax credit: No

Idea: Raise the grocery tax credit to $90 a year from $20, but give it only to lower-income Idahoans.

Cost: $22 million

Result: Lawmakers first passed a bill that would have raised the credit to $40 from $20 for all Idahoans, but Otter vetoed that bill.

Tent prison: No

Idea: Erect a second tent-style Sprung Instant Structure at the prison complex south of Boise to handle inmate overflow.

Cost: $1.9 million

Result: Lawmakers rejected the idea, instead giving prison officials more treatment dollars and $3 million to begin planning for a bricks-and-mortar prison for mentally ill inmates.

Noxious weeds: Yes

Idea: Give $6 million to local communities targeting noxious weeds, plus $4 million to eradicate Eurasian milfoil.

Cost: $10 million

Result: Lawmakers approved Otter's request.

First-responder communication: Yes

Idea: Pay up to $40 million to help law enforcement agencies develop a chain of command and upgrade communication and technology to prepare for large-scale disasters and emergencies.

Cost: $3 million; up to $40 million if there is money left over

Result: Lawmakers approved $3 million and up to $12 million in federal matching funds, if the state can win them.

College nursing buildings: Yes

Idea: Construct nursing education buildings at the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls and Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston.

Cost: $37 million

Result: Lawmakers approved the plan.

Drug office: Yes

Idea: Create a separate Office of Drug policy to oversee agency drug treatment, prevention and education efforts.

Cost: $250,000

Result: Lawmakers approved the idea, and office head Debbie Field has already raised the money needed for the first year of an anti-meth campaign targeted at teens.

Capitol construction: Yes and No

Idea: Otter objected to $42 million for two-story wings beneath the Statehouse, though the Legislature and then-Gov. Dirk Kempthorne settled the plan last year. In his budget, Otter called for the $83 million Statehouse renovation, but not the wings.

Cost: Possible savings of $11 million on estimated $122 million price tag.

Result: After Otter put in a stop-work order on construction, he and leaders negotiated to make the wings one instead of two stories and to turn the first floor over to the Legislature from the executive branch.

Connecting Idaho: Yes and No

Idea: Otter said lawmakers should give transportation officials the full $264 million they requested and let the officials decide where the money goes.

Cost: $264 million

Result: Lawmakers approved up to $250 million, but specified the same six projects they originally approved, with set ranges for each project.

Pay state workers more: Yes and No

Idea: Otter proposed the state's roughly 19,000 workers should get average 5 percent merit-based raises but should pay for increases in their insurance premiums.

Cost: $30.6 million but no increase for insurance premiums

Result: Lawmakers OK'd the pay increase, but said any increase in premiums should first be taken out of reserves, which will likely cover the whole amount.

Agency shake-up: Yes and No

Idea: Split the Department of Commerce and Labor into two separate agencies and dissolve the Department of Administration and Division of Human Resources.

Cost: Unknown

Result: Lawmakers agreed to splitting Commerce and Labor. Though lawmakers rejected plans for dissolution, Otter's office has begun eliminating positions and functions at the Human Resources Division.

Scholarship fund: Yes and No

Idea: Create an endowment to fund scholarships for lower-income Idahoans to go to Idaho colleges.

Cost: $38 million

Result: The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee decided there wasn't enough money for Otter's full request. They set aside $10 million to start the endowment, with $2 million for scholarships this year, and plans to pay $2 million a year in the future.

Detox center: Yes and No

Idea: Help build a Boise detoxification center

Cost: $865,000

Results: Lawmakers approved $2 million to be given out as competitive community-based mental health and substance abuse grants, for which the center would be eligible.

Community colleges: Yes and No

Idea: Otter said the required vote for creating a community college district should be lowered to a 60 percent majority, and any district that approves a college should get $5 million in seed money.

Cost: $5 million

Result: Lawmakers wouldn't lower the required vote, but approved the $5 million.

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