Otter may not fully fund task force plans

Otter Associated Taxpayers
Gov. Butch Otter addresses an audience of legislators and lobbyists at the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho annual conference Wednesday. (Photo from Betsy Russell, Spokane Spokesman-Review.)

(UPDATED, 7:15 p.m., to correct Cathy Holland-Smith’s job title.)

Gov. Butch Otter’s proposed budget could come up short of funding state schools superintendent Tom Luna’s spending plan for K-12.

That would mean the governor’s budget would not fully fund ideas from the governor’s own education reform task force.

Otter teased out a few details of his budget Wednesday, speaking to the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho’s annual meeting in Boise. Otter said his budget proposal is near completion, and it would include a revenue increase of 3 to 3.5 percent.

Otter didn’t delve into details — and probably won’t for the next 26 days. He will release his budget proposal on Jan. 6, the first day of the 2014 legislative session.

But here’s why the 3 to 3.5 percent revenue increase is significant.

In November, Cathy Holland-Smith of the state’s Legislative Services Office told key lawmakers that it would take a 5 percent revenue increase to cover all 2014-15 agency budget requests, including Luna’s K-12 budget plan. Building the budget based on more modest revenue forecasts would leave the Legislature with that much less money for agency requests.

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Luna is seeking a 5.4 percent increase for K-12. This proposal was built around funding a down payment on the task force’s 20 recommendations — including a teacher salary ladder, reversing recession-era cuts to school district budgets, and “technology devices” for all Idaho students.

The total bill for the task force recommendations runs $350 million or more. Otter and Luna say they support all 20 recommendations, but neither of them say the state can afford to put them in place in one year. Otter has suggested a five-year rollout.

Luna’s budget proposal takes an incremental approach to the task force’s two most costly recommendations. It would put $42 million toward a career ladder plan with an overall pricetag of $253 million, and $16.5 million toward erasing $82.5 million in district operations budget cuts.

As for how much Otter wants to put in these specific programs — or into public schools in general — those answers won’t come for nearly a month.

The ATI conference is an unofficial prelude to the legislative session. The conference’s noon speaker is Lt. Gov. Brad Little.

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