Stormy winter conditions were not confined to the outdoors Monday. A political cold front whistled and howled through the Idaho Statehouse when Gov. Butch Otter brought up two of the most dreaded words in the Republican Partys dictionary: Local option.
We never thought wed see the day when a Republican governor would bring up those two words in the form of a serious proposal to the Legislature. But as Otter sees it and we agree that it makes sense on a broad scope a local-option tax is one way to make up for a $141 million gash that would be left by the proposed repeal of the personal property tax, which are perhaps the three most hated words in Idahos business community.
The Legislature has been talking about repealing the unpopular, onerous tax on business property for several years, but it has never figured out how to replace the revenue the tax generates for local governments. Otter didnt offer specifics, but he did provide a framework for discussion. To say the least, it will be difficult getting any kind of a local-option bill through the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, let alone the full House.
The mention of local option was about the only surprise of Otters seventh State of the State address. He repeated his sensible calls for a collaborative approach to education reform and moving toward a state-run health insurance exchange, rather than putting an exchange in the hands of the federal government. He is forecasting a 3.1 percent increase in general fund spending and 5.3 percent growth in revenues, but those are moving targets. In past years, the governors revenue and budget projections essentially were dead on arrival.
Otter did not discuss in his speech specific figures for public schools, the largest item in the state budget. His proposal to the Legislature is a modest 2 percent increase in funding, which is hardly a mark of progress. The Legislature needs to do better.
We like his idea to add five seats to the regional medical education partnership through the University of Washington, which would help attract more doctors to Idaho. The governor brought up a good point: Idaho has the sixth-oldest physician workforce in America and ranks 49th in doctors per capita. Idaho has 20 seats available in the five-state program, a number that has not changed since 1972.
As with any other proposals that surface during these State of the State addresses, its not about what the governor wants. Its about what the Legislature allows. And that process begins today.
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