Gov. Butch Otter met with members of the Idaho Press Club on Wednesday morning.
Here are some highlights from Otter’s meeting:
Otter supports Senate action on PERSI cost-of-living adjustment
Otter lauded the job that Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho executive director Don Drum and board chairman Jody Olsen have done with the fund. They “are very responsible and do a terrific job,” Otter said.
He said he understood the House’s objections to the 1 percent increase that was approved by the PERSI board, but said he agreed with the Senate’s decision not to object to the plan, thus allowing the increase to go into effect next month.
“I think it was smart that we went ahead with the 1 percent,” Otter said.
Otter supports expanding the grocery tax credit as scheduled in 2011
Otter said the Aug. 2006 special session of the Legislature made “an implied promise” to the people of Idaho, especially the state’s poor, to “do something to try and relief the burden.”
Otter: State jobs are more secure than private sector jobs
Otter said that a lot of companies have cut personnel costs 15 to 20 percent through layoffs or wage and salary reductions.
“We haven’t even come close to what the private sector is experiencing,” Otter said.
Otter: I’ll take that bet with Cecil Andrus
Former Gov. Cecil Andrus — who Otter says he has a “tremendous relationship with” — said on Boise State radio Wednesday morning that he would bet Otter $100 that chief economist Mike Ferguson’s revenue forecast will be right.
Otter recommended a budget that was $83.8 million less than Ferguson’s forecast of $2.432 billion for 2011. The Legislature adopted a figure of $2.29 billion — $59 million less than Otter’s request.
“I’ll take that bet and I hope he is right,” Otter said. “I pray that his right. If Cece knows something that I don’t know, that for the first time Mike is closer than somebody else, I’d love to hear that story from Cece.”
Otter says he would fund opportunity scholarships, transportation if he had the money
Otter said if economic times were better than he would have liked to put $100 million in a fund for opportunity scholarships for college and find additional revenue for transportation. Otter tried to get more funding for transportation last session.
In the end, he got a fraction of what he wanted and a task force to study the issue further. Otter said he would consider lower the sales tax and increasing the gas tax. Several bills that would have raised the gas tax failed last session in the Idaho House.
Otter favors having flexibility with $71 million in Millennium Fund
If the federal government keeps the current Medicare matching rate — as it appears it will — that could free up $71 million from the Millennium Fund. The money is being set aside in case the federal government reverts to a lower matching rate, thus increasing the amount states must pay.
Otter said he would like to be able to use that $71 million to give money to agencies in the event the economy begins to turn around. Otherwise, he could hold the money to offset potential holdbacks in the middle of the year. He wants the Legislature to give him that ability when it leaves town.
“Having that $71 million as a buffer to additional holdbacks is great, but I also think if the economy is starting to show some signs of recovery and revenues are starting to flow again … then let’s go ahead and release a portion of that $71 million into areas that we’ve had to cut,” Otter said. “I’d like to have the flexibility of doing that.”
Otter: I don’t want to make cuts, but it is my constitutional obligation
Otter, who last week wrote a scathing editorial blasting some editorial writers across the state, explained his comment Wednesday morning.
"I got it off my chest," he said, noting that he wrote and edited the editorial. "We 'Otterized' it over and over and over again."
Otter said he takes offense to some of the headlines that say “Otter cuts education. Otter cuts grade school.”
He said he would like to see just one headline that says “Otter obeys constitution,” noting that the Idaho Constitution requires that the state have a balanced budget.
“I didn’t have the option there. The Constitution very clearly states that we cannot spend more money than we bring in. I must, I must cut,” Otter said. “Make it sound like something I really wanted to do, like I couldn’t wait to get out there and do it.”
Otter said the suggestion that most offended him was when an editorial writer wrote that Otter wants to cut “anything that makes people happy.”
"I just bristle when an article in the newspaper will assign to my motivation the way they feel instead of asking me," Otter said.
Otter: Campaign announcement coming soon
Otter, who has yet to announce officially that he is running for a second term, said the announcement will “be in the near future.”
Otter said he was hoping to announce after the Legislature had a budget target and was making progress in setting budgets for 2011. The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee began setting budgets this week.
“I didn’t want the race involved in all the noise and activity going on at the Legislature,” Otter said. “… I think we’re getting there