Friday, December 21, 2012

Subjects of Otter’s speech hush-hush

Local officials say they want answers on education


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

Gov. Butch Otter

The subjects of the 2013 State of the State address to be given by Gov. Butch Otter on the first day of the new legislative session are shrouded in mystery. The governor’s spokesman said this week that he cannot discuss the specific topics that will come up. Meanwhile, some Blaine County officials said they want to hear the governor’s plans for education.

Otter is scheduled to deliver the speech on Jan. 7 at noon.
Jon Hanian, spokesman for Otter, said Wednesday that he was not at liberty to discuss the exact topics of the speech—but that it would address many major issues that he expected to come up in the next legislative session.
“It’s going to cover all of the most pressing issues, and any issue you could possibly think of that involves the state and your taxes and government services,” he said.
Rep. Donna Pence, D-Gooding, and Blaine County Commissioner Larry Schoen both said they want to see the governor address the issue of education.
Pence said she’s concerned about education appropriations, especially since school districts did their budgeting for this fiscal year under the now-repealed Luna Laws. The law promised funding for technology in classrooms and for dual-credit courses that allowed high school students to earn college credits.
Pence said funding for those programs might go away since the laws were overturned in the November election.
“A lot of the school districts were anticipating using that money and need to have it,” she said. “The schools went along with the laws because they had to, because that’s what was in the cards for them then.”
Pence said she has heard rumors that some members of the Legislature might use that money to fund a repeal of the personal property tax, a tax levied on business assets such as computers and other equipment. Some legislators have argued that repeal of the tax could boost small businesses, but others—including Pence—have argued that it would harm small counties that rely on that tax as a large portion of their budgets.
Pence said it would be disingenuous to use education funding to cut or eliminate the state personal property tax.
“I don’t think anyone voted against the Luna Laws with that in mind,” she said.
Schoen spoke in broader terms about education, stating he would like to see statewide education reform that takes into account the needs of students, parents and teachers.
“I’m talking about creative solutions to raising the standards of education and the quality of education in our state, in a way that involves everyone who’s concerned about the issue,” he said. “The fact that so many school districts are having to go to supplemental levies to meet their needs means that the state is not meeting the obligation.”
One of those is the Blaine County School District.
Schoen also said better education might lead to an increase in personal income for Idahoans as more state residents are able to fill better-paying jobs. Schoen said he would ideally like to see companies come to the state and bring jobs that offer salaries that allow families to be supported on one income.
“If these companies are out there, why are they not in Idaho?” he asked.
Pence said she was uncertain if Otter would address the issue of gun control in light of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting last week. However, she said she worries the shooting will spur legislation that would allow students to carry concealed weapons on college campuses.
“I think it will open up a lot more problems in the long run,” she said. “All the schools are against it, and it’s not a good idea.”
Hanian declined to comment on whether the governor would discuss gun control, but said Otter has addressed national issues in State of the State speeches before.
“If you go back and look at State of the State addresses, he talked about concerns over federal intrusion at many levels of state government in many policy arenas,” he said. “Otter believes very strongly in asserting states’ rights when he feels that’s being challenged or threatened.”


Kate Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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