Butch Otter has been doing quite a bit of governing by nastygram this session. Today, we'll find out whether his latest missive has killed his bid to come up with new money for highways.
The quick history: On Wednesday, a House committee unveiled a bill to raise $68.5 million for highways — not enough to meet a $200 million need, but an Otter aide called it a "good start." A day later, Otter issued this statement to the media:
"I've been working hard on this issue ever since I came into office, explaining the statewide needs and the urgency of acting now, developing options and building support. I also have worked with legislators every step of the way. But in the end it's the relatively narrow focus that goes along with representing an individual district that keeps legislators from acknowledging the challenge of a nearly quarter-billion-dollar statewide transportation infrastructure backlog or embracing any way of addressing it. Simply put, there is a shortage of vision and political will within the Legislature to do what needs to be done this year. But the problem doesn't go away with the 59th Legislature. I will continue working with experts and stakeholders alike to develop a long-term solution for the 2009 session."
That could be enough to kill even the $68.5 million bill. The bill still sits on the House's third reading calendar, but House Majority Caucus Chair Ken Roberts says he will move to send the bill back to committee this morning if there is no momentum to pass something this year. The House convenes at 10 a.m.
As we said in our Sunday editorial, it doesn't make a whole lot of public policy sense to sneeze at some money that will help address some of the state's highway problems. Tactically, this move is equally baffling.
This is the second time Otter has gone public with his complaints about the way legislators have handled the highway funding issue. Otter sent a testy letter to lawmakers earlier this month, accusing them of using his wildly unpopular vehicle registration fee increase bill as political cover. But this time, Otter sent out a statement to the media — and spokesman Jon Hanian went out of his way to tell us Friday that the statement went to the media, not to legislators, as our Friday story indicated.
Actually, that makes matters worse. Otter is bypassing fellow Republicans in the Legislature entirely. And this same governor said, during his State of the State Address, "If I have something to say about what you’re doing here or how you’re doing it, you won’t read about it in the paper first." Wow, maybe it is time for this session to come to a merciful end.
I couldn't resist making the "governing by nastygram" observation on Idaho Reports' "After the Show" Friday. And, as usual, Boise State University professor emeritus Jim Weatherby put it all in context. He reminded us that the Connecting Idaho highway program — and its millions of dollars for Interstate 84 repairs — survived because a furious then-Gov. Dirk Kempthorne vetoed a series of bills in 2005.
I'm not sure Otter's outburst will have a similar effect.
So far, though, Otter seems to have little to show for the 2008 session. In a nastygram of an editorial, The Times-News in Twin Falls ripped this session as "the least productive legislative session in a generation," and heaped considerable blame on the governor's shoulders.
"Otter has an astonishingly hard time finding the same page as the House and Senate GOP leadership. He tends to be blindsided by their decisions, makes poor choices with his vetoes and hasn't been successful putting together coalitions to achieve his goals."
If the transportation bill dies today, that only serves to underscore this argument.