Guest Opinions

Week one of Gov. Brad Little: Idahoans probably like what they see

Gov. Brad Little leaves the House chambers after his inaugural State of the State address on Monday.
Gov. Brad Little leaves the House chambers after his inaugural State of the State address on Monday.

Idaho gubernatorial inaugurations are, if anything, predictable. The format for this year’s inaugural followed the same pattern as previous inaugurals. With one notable exception.

For the first time ever, the first lady delivered an inauguration speech. Not just some polite remarks thanking Idaho’s citizens for having the good sense to elect her husband, but a full-blown 10-minute speech. It was a speech with a significant underlying message. The message was that the governor’s family has been in Idaho since it became a state and has played an active role in helping build Idaho’s economy and civil fabric to what it is today. It is a role that they will continue in the future with Gov. Brad Little now at the helm of the state.

In the governor’s address, he spelled out what his priorities will be for the next four years: a good quality of life; good jobs; good schools; affordable health care, including mental health and substance abuse treatment; protection of natural resources; and maintenance of infrastructure. Also, while attending to all these priorities, being fiscally sound and maintaining solid ethics.

As inaugural addresses go, it was one of the better ones of the 13 I’ve heard. It was consistent with statements he made during his campaign, and, for the most part, it focused on priorities of which the vast majority of Idahoans are supportive.

Three days later, in his first State of the State address, he outlined his highest priorities in the budget to the Legislature for the coming year. For the most part, they reflected the priorities he stated in his inaugural address. The exception was his silence on the need for additional state highway funding. Given the previous governor’s inability to get the Legislature to act on this issue, it is likely that he is going to want to make sure he has some strong advocates for whatever he proposes and the ability to obtain the votes in the House and Senate.

His education priorities largely reflect a continuation of efforts begun in the Otter administration. His one new education initiative is the establishment of what he calls a Children’s Cabinet made up of parents and other stakeholders to advise him on public school issues. He might want to consider something in a similar vein for postsecondary education.

He is following through his commitment to implement the voter-approved initiative on Medicaid expansion. For those who have followed this initiative, it was interesting to see the stoic and unenthusiastic look on the face of newly elected Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin as he was discussing this. She has been a very vocal opponent of Medicaid expansion and the initiative.

One of his campaign pledges that isn’t addressed this time around is a reduction of taxes. However, by leaving a large budget surplus to be carried over into the next year, his plan is to leave sufficient money available to come to the Legislature in 2020 and recommend the elimination of the sales tax on groceries. It is probably a wise bit of budget policy, the grocery tax repeal aside, to leave a large balance available, so that it can meet a shortfall should state tax revenues not meet expectations.

I think that Gov. Little has had a first week that should make most Idahoans comfortable. He has set his priorities and is taking first steps to have them realized. He also appears to have done a good job of selecting members of his team. While there are a few recognizable individuals who have been around in the world of Idaho politics and government, for the most part he has avoided bringing in the usual band of suspects. A new administration needs new people with new ideas.

The governor has talked about the need for transparency and ethics in government. A good starting point would be to provide the citizens with periodic progress reports on his various priorities. There are few better ways of ensuring accountability.

Martin L. Peterson, a former state budget director and director of government affairs for the University of Idaho, is a member of the Idaho Statesman editorial board.