BOISE -- The Governor's State of the State Address and the 2014 Idaho legislative session are just days away, and on Friday, Governor Butch Otter talked about what he'd like to see in this year's legislative session.
Otter said the most important issue will be education. It's one of the most important issues to the legislature every year, but with recent economic challenges, the state has had to cut education funding. Now, however, the Governor says in 2014, he wants to restore a big chunk of that funding. That was the promise made by the legislature and the governor when the recession hit and they cut funding, that they'd restore it as soon as they could.
Last year's education budget did have 30-million more dollars for Idaho schools in it, but critics say that barely keeps up with inflation. But Friday, during a legislative preview, the governor talked about being able to restore much more of the funding they cut during the recession.
"As you'll recall, we really had no choice. We felt, because education was the last thing that we cut, with the indication, rather guarantee that when we got more money it would be the first replaced. And I think we're going to be able to begin this year, with a very aggressive fulfillment of that agreement and that promise."
Governor Otter also thanked his Education Task Force for their hard work, and said he would try to install their recommendations for education in Idaho over the next five years. Those include restoring operational funding for schools, but also professional development and state standards. We talked to House Minority Leader John Rusche about those recommendations, he says he believes there's bipartisan support for them, but not necessarily for funding them. He also called for restoration of education funding.
The governor also talked about something that he wouldn't like to see in this year's session, at least, not yet.
There were two big questions in last year's session. First, lawmakers had to decide whether or not to create a state-based health exchange in response to the Affordable Care Act, which they did. Also, lawmakers could decide whether or not to expand Idahoans' eligibility for Medicaid., but that decision was put off.
Friday, the governor was asked if he and the legislature might tackle that Medicaid expansion question this year. He said, he'd like to first change Medicaid in Idaho, to require more personal responsibility from recipients and for the state to only fund healthy outcomes of medicaid care.
"What I would like to see is us operating with our new program in place, of more personal responsibility by the individual and paying for outcomes. I'd like to see that institutionalized before we expand Medicaid. The first reason is, that's what we need to do anyway. The other reason is that if we just expand the Medicaid and start going forward, we'll being hearing the same thing that we did when you could keep your doctor and you could keep your insurance policy."
The state is currently working on a plan to possibly implement those Medicaid programs right now.
The governor was also asked if his impending showdown in the Republican primary with Senator Russ Fulcher would be a distraction. Otter faces the Majority Caucus Chair in the in May primary. Will that affect the work that needs to be done in Statehouse this session? Will there be heated conflict inside GOP leadership? It depends on who you ask.
The governor says, he's focused on doing the peoples' work, and believes Fulcher is too, although he didn't mention him by name.
"We both have the interests of the peoples' work at heart. I believe that we will work in that direction. My leadership abilities are going to be directed at that. I have every reason to believe that the Senate and all their leadership team is directed in that focus as well."
Meanwhile, Rusche is expecting the primary race to be a big distraction. "I think we're going to see a Civil War in the Republican Party and the struggle of setting people up for the primaries as being one of the major factors in this session. And, that's unfortunate, because we'll see more symbolism and bumper sticker debate than we will dealing with the real issues."
KTVB Political Analyst Dr. Jim Weatherby also believes this primary race will be one of the major themes of this year's session, and thinks it played a big part in the governor's decision NOT to take up the decision of whether or not to expand medicaid this year.
We'll hear more of the Governor's plans for this session in his State of the State Address on Monday at 1 p.m. KTVB will carry the speech live and will also be streaming it online.