BOISE– Governor Butch Otter delivered his last State of the State address today.
The three-term Governor said that some of Idaho’s most important public policy issues in the coming years will involve making healthcare more accessible and affordable to working families. He also stressed that employers need to have enough educated, trained and skilled workers to meet the needs of the state’s growing economy.
“Because of the work we have done over more than a decade, we have never been readier for the challenges and opportunities ahead,” Governor Otter told the Idaho Legislature, other State leaders and a statewide audience during his 12th and final State of the State and Budget Address at the Idaho Capitol.
“The commonsense conservative policies advanced by this body – and by us together – have been essential to Idaho’s progress toward better enabling our citizens to become the architects of their own destiny rather than surrendering to the siren song of entitlement.”
The Governor is beginning the last year of his third term. He won't seek a fourth term. In the State of the State address, Otter urged State leaders to work together in the public interest rather than being stalled or sidetracked by Statehouse politics or ideology.
“We have made progress in the right direction over the past 11 years. Whether we continue on that course depends on our commitment to investing in an even better future for the people we serve,” he said. “It depends on the value we place on joining with individuals, communities and our corporate citizens in overcoming hidebound opposition to a legitimate role for State government in pursuing our common interests.”
Policy and spending priorities for the budget year beginning July 1, outlined by Governor Otter, include:
· Providing nearly $42 million for the fourth year of a five-year plan to implement the “career ladder” system, shifting how Idaho funds teacher salaries from years of service and education credits to student outcomes.
· Providing $6.5 million to expand literacy intervention efforts for kindergarten through third-grade students who are not yet proficiently reading at grade level.
· Providing an additional $5 million annually for college and career advising to help students and their families better prepare for life after high school.
· Providing an additional $10 million annually for classroom technology, along with requiring that public schools have well-developed plans for sustainably integrating technology into their curricula.
· Providing an additional $1.4 million annually to continue increasing the number of schools introducing mastery-based education programs.
· Providing spending authority for the State Board of Education to hire an Executive Officer to coordinate the work of all Idaho’s public higher education institutions, as well as to manage a system-wide consolidation of higher education support operations and the Board’s continuing policy functions
· Implementing a statewide higher education degree audit and data analytics system.
· Providing an additional $5 million for the Opportunity Scholarship program and Adult Completion Scholarships.
· Expanding capacity at postsecondary technical schools, providing additional incentive funding for high school career-technical programs, expanding career-technical education offerings to the seventh and eighth grades, developing more online career-technical education classes, and increasing support for Idaho’s six regional Working Training Centers.
· Providing merit-based 3-percent pay increases for State employees.
· Rolling back an unemployment insurance rate increase on Idaho businesses.
· Reducing State individual and corporate income tax rates.
· Proposing a plan for Idaho to substantially conform with the new federal tax code without putting State revenues or Idaho taxpayers at risk.
· Providing $17.4 million from the General Fund and $11.4 million from the Millennium Fund to implement the Idaho Health Care Plan, which aims to stabilize the state’s healthcare insurance market and give more working Idahoans the ability to purchase affordable coverage.
· Providing for 11 new residencies for Idaho physicians in training.
· Providing $2.6 million to stand up three more behavioral health crisis centers in the Lewiston, Nampa-Caldwell and Pocatello areas.
· Adding eight new positions at the Department of Lands to expand the Good Neighbor Authority program, working with federal agencies to more quickly implement on-the-ground land and watershed improvements on U.S. Forest Service lands.
· Assessing and centralizing scattered and disjointed information resources in order to standardize and optimize cyber capabilities throughout State government.
“Idaho is stronger and more economically diverse than ever,” Governor Otter said. “Our unemployment rate is near a record low. Wages are on the rise. Whole industry sectors are emerging and growing, stretching our taxpayer resources to keep up with workforce demands. But we are sustainably and responsibly investing in K-through-Career education and training without raising taxes.”
While pledging continued prudent management of Idaho’s taxpayer resources, Governor Otter urged legislators not to “waste the opportunity that relative prosperity now affords us to invest in the future.” He cited the results that more than a decade of rational conservative policies have produced for Idaho citizens along with “the creative genius, the entrepreneurial spirit, and the native independence and self-reliance of our citizens.”
Otter's speech was 12 minutes longer than any previous addresses and was met with a standing ovation from Idaho lawmakers.