WestViews: Opinions from newspapers in Idaho and the West

September 30, 2013 

OTTER’S PLEDGESUBJECT TO REVISION

Lewiston Tribune

Suddenly, the endorsement Gov. C.L. (Butch) Otter extended toward restoring $82.5 million in operational funds to Idaho’s strapped schools is conditional.

“That $82 million, as far as I’m concerned, is not going back without some expectations being requested,” Otter said last week as his No. 2, Lt. Gov. Brad Little, was kicking off his re-election campaign. “If we weren’t spending that $82 million correctly in the first place, I don’t want it to go right back into the same environment. I want to create some expectations for that $82 million going back and I think that’s what the task force expects me to do.”

At the Aug. 27 Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce meeting, Otter pledged to follow the task force recommendations on a four- to five-year plan.

Operational funds are precisely that — these are dollars spent to keep the doors open. So how does a state attach strings there?

Is Otter suggesting the state decide when it’s time to replace a damaged or antiquated science textbook? When it’s time to update curriculum? Does he believe someone at the top has more control over health insurance premiums than a local school administrator? Should decisions to purchase or repair copying machines be made at the top?

Worse, Otter seems to imply the dollars were lifted from school budgets because they had been misspent.

Instead, Otter and lawmakers withdrew state support from local schools during the depth of the Great Recession — and then chose not to restore it when the economy began to recover.

Last year, 34 states put more dollars behind each child’s education. Idaho was not among them.

Since 2010, Otter and GOP legislative leaders have been content to lowball revenue forecasts, triggering deeper cuts than were necessary to balance the budget.

And when the tax dollars returned, they funneled the money elsewhere — $56 million in tax cuts to wealthy families and corporations and another $111.3 million has been socked away in reserve accounts. All of which raises questions about Otter. Does he not understand what operational funds do? Or is he looking for a way to back out of his commitment?

PLOT THICKENSIN IDAHO POLITICS

Post Register, Idaho Falls

In March 2012, this page posed these questions: “Does House Speaker Lawerence Denney have his eyes on a prize? A post-legislative gig that would pay him more now and later?"

A man who earned the nickname “Boss” by bullying, cutting ethical corners and blatantly working to further the interests of his cronies at your expense, Denney had just single-handedly killed a good government bill.

Rep. Dennis Lake, R-Blackfoot, wanted to eliminate the PERSI perk, a taxpayer-unfriendly boondoggle that, thanks to the Boss, remains on the books.

The perk works like this: Someone, such as the Boss, spends 18 years in the Legislature before retiring to the farm. His monthly pension is based on a formula that calculates the number of years served and his highest 42 months of salary. That’s $16,500.

But say that legislator gets appointed or elected to a higher office, such as secretary of state. He serves one term. The PERSI perk ensures that his retirement check will be based on a formula that calculates those 22 years at the 42 highest months of salary. That’s no longer $16,500 but $93,756.

That’s quite a boost. Did we mention the Boss recently filed paperwork to run for secretary of state next year? Hmm. The plot thickens. There are many other reasons Idahoans should be alarmed at the thought of Denney seeking an office whose current holder, Ben Ysursa, has always championed the interests of voters, even when those collide with fellow Republicans.

So, on one hand, we have a man with a history of tireless effort on behalf of the public interest. On the other, we have a Boss with much to gain financially, someone his fellow House Republicans overthrew last year.

And in between, a vital public office that safeguards the integrity of the vote.

We are not that stupid.

Are we?

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