Idaho Learns was the theme of Governor Otter’s 2015 State of the State Address Monday, with the governor citing lessons from the recession, discussions on education, and the recent contract kerfuffle with Idaho Education Network.
A good portion of the address focused on education, with the governor announcing a proposed $20 million in discretionary operating funds for local schools in fiscal 2016. In all, the governor said his total request represents 7.4 percent more funding for public schools.
In the tax arena, the governor spoke to last year’s Tax Reimbursement Incentive, a performance based tool he said is attracting great interest from businesses ready to create thousands of jobs and invest billions of dollars in Idaho’s future. He said TRI requires employers to prove up their commitment to Idaho with jobs and capital investments before their tax payments are reimbursed.
The governor also acknowledged that Idaho faces a need to prepare for legislation now before the US Congress that would clarify the legal authority of states to impose and enforce a sales tax on interstate purchases of goods online.
Otter said he has studied the recommendations of his Medicaid Redesign Workgroup and agrees with its findings – up to a point. He said the collaborative efforts resulted in a successful program in Your Health Idaho, Idaho’s own insurance exchange.
“I especially appreciate the Workgroup’s strong focus on personal accountability, requiring co-payments, and managed care,” he said.
The governor pledged to continue to defend Idaho’s same-sex marriage ban, and worked to that end with Attorney General Lawrence Wasden to file appeals of the case to the US Supreme Court.
Otter acknowledged what he called the biggest of the big-ticket items in Idaho’s infrastructure inventory is a long-term, multibillion-dollar investment in Idaho’s roads and bridges.
“The maintenance backlog we already have makes it even more important to figure out now how to pay for the hundreds of millions of dollars in improvements needed to protect Idaho lives and corridors of commerce.”
On environmental issues, the Governor was brief, mentioning potential federal action on sage grouse protection and electrical transmission project siting, and his hope those issues could be resolved in collaboration with local stakeholders. His proposed budget includes $750,000 to help conserve sage grouse habitat to help preclude federal listing of the species.
The Governor also nodded to the completion of the historic Snake River Basin Adjudication process. The largest single-stream adjudication in U.S. history that concluded last summer after 27 years and covering water rights on about 87 percent of Idaho’s land area. Next on the docket: adjudicating all northern Idaho water claims.