Otter hints at tough debates over K-12 funding, tax cuts

Gov. Butch Otter renewed his support for Idaho’s five-year education plan Wednesday.

But, he said, the third year won’t come cheap.

“This is going to be the toughest year,” said Otter, during the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho’s annual meeting in Boise.

Attended by most legislators and many of the state’s most prominent lobbyists, the ATI meeting is something of an informal prelude to the legislative session. Otter dropped a couple of hints about what to expect in his Jan. 9 State of the State address, which will launch the 2017 session:

  • Otter indicated his support for putting $58 million into the career ladder, Idaho’s five-year effort to boost teacher salaries. This third installment of the career ladder is the costliest — but that should come as no surprise, Otter said, since that was part of the blueprint lawmakers endorsed in 2015. The career ladder is the spendiest recommendation from Otter’s education task force, which outlined a five-year, $350 million makeover in 2013.
  • Otter said he will keep an open mind to tax cuts — but said he has no particular plan of his own. He predicted proposals ranging from income tax cuts to another reduction in the “personal property tax” businesses pay on equipment, furniture and other supplies. “There will be plenty of ideas,” Otter said, “(and) I’m willing to look at all of them.”

Robust revenue reports will fuel the talk of a tax cut. Idaho’s October surplus came in at $132.5 million, four months into the 2016-17 budget year. The November report will come out next week, and Otter hinted that the new numbers will embolden lawmakers who want tax cuts.

Lawmakers are in town this week for their post-election organizational session. On Wednesday night, they will meet in closed caucuses to elect floor leaders. Legislators will receive their committee assignments later in the week. (Check back at Idaho Education News for ongoing coverage.)