BOISE, Idaho — Gov. Brad Little kicked off the first session of the 67th Idaho Legislature on Jan. 9 with his State of the State Address. It's his opportunity to lay out his legislative and budget priorities for the year. The Republican, now starting his second term, calls this year's plan "Idaho First."
Since his first campaign for governor, Governor Little has said education is his top priority. Once again, it was the major topic in his speech. But he also focused on property tax relief, investments in infrastructure, public safety and the tragic loss of four bright lights.
He proposed massive investments in Idaho's public schools, teachers and school children under his "Idaho First" plan.
"We are not backing down on education; we are doubling down on education," Little said. "Four years ago, I stated my goal: to make Idaho the place where we all can have the opportunity to thrive, where our children and grandchildren choose to stay, and for the ones who have left to choose to return."
To reach that goal, the governor wants the legislature to invest the $410 million of budget surplus money it approved in last year's special session this way. His budget request calls for raising starting teacher pay to more than $47,000 per year. He says that would put Idaho in the top 10 of all states for starting teacher pay.
He also wants to give all teachers an average pay raise of $6,300, give raises to classified staff such as cafeteria workers, paraprofessionals and bus drivers, and boost discretionary funding by $52 million for school districts to defray property taxes.
The governor also proposed giving $8,500 scholarships to all qualifying Idaho high school students to attend an in-state university, community college, career technical school or workforce training program of their choice.
"We want Idaho students brought up in Idaho schools working in Idaho jobs," Little said in his speech.
Outside of education, Governor Little proposed hundreds of millions to improve our bridges and airports, provide property tax relief, give state troopers an average $6,000 raise, do state water improvement projects and build a new mental health facility.
"Given the economic volatility on the near horizon, this may be our one last shot in the near future to make strategic tax cuts that will sustain a balanced budget over time," Little said.
And amid the proposals and project ideas the governor delivered a poignant moment. He asked for a moment of silence for Ethan Chapin, Kaylee Goncalves, Xana Kernodle and Maddie Mogen, the four young lives taken in a brutal murder just off the University of Idaho campus in Moscow on November 13.
"The loss of these incredible people is felt exponentially, and we will never forget them. We will vigorously seek justice for the victims and the many loved ones they leave behind."
On this Viewpoint, Governor Little discusses how involved he has been in the process since the murders.
"Well, close enough that I had some sleepless nights," Little said. "We were in communication with the city, the police department and our State Police every day, our office was. Obviously there were things that we were learning that were being held, a pretty tight hold. But, you know, as we've gone past it, I really think that the fact that Moscow City Police when they reached out and asked for our State Police to come in, their skill set, their laboratory capacity. You know this is an absolute tragedy, but that was an example of how I think public safety and law enforcement ought to work in the future. We pray and hope that nothing even remotely close to this every happens again because you just, you know the City of Moscow was just overwhelmed. And there was a lot of national media there doing some, in my mind, shoddy work there trying to stir things up, and they got their feet under them and I was proud of them, and as I said, we sure want justice to get meted out."
Governor Little said he did have an opportunity to talk with the victims' parents.
"I went up there for the memorial service and had a brief conversation with them. That memorial service, listening to those parents, it was the most selfless, touching comments, things that are important to all of us, that precious time that we have with our family and friends, to spend that," he said. "I could not believe the value and the depth and the sincerity of their comments there, and it was really good for the community."
Early on, Governor Little allocated $1 million in state emergency funds to help pay for the costs of the all-encompassing investigation.
Governor Little also discusses his legislative and budget priorities for this session of the legislature, including public education, property tax relief, public safety and the fight against the dangerous drug Fentanyl.
Viewpoint airs Sunday mornings at 9 o'clock on KTVB.
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