Republican Gov. Butch Otter says his opponent is wrong to criticize the education budget produced by state lawmakers and that his challenger did nothing to close sales tax exemptions in his time working with state lawmakers as a registered lobbyist.
Otter, in an interview with IdahoReporter.com while on a campaign bus tour of the southwestern portion of the state Tuesday, said Democrat Keith Allred is being disingenuous with voters over education funding, cut by 7.5 percent – or $128 million – by the Idaho Legislature earlier this year, cuts approved by the incumbent. In the interview, Otter also explains his feelings on a statewide ban on texting while driving, his stance on a task force recommendation on gas tax hikes, illegal immigration legislation, and why he won’t work within federal health care reforms to create a state health system.
A botched education budget?
Allred has accused Otter of botching the state’s budget by lowering budget projections for fiscal year 2011, a reduction necessitating cuts to the public schools budget. Otter says that Allred is completely wrong to criticize the education budget and that as a percentage of the state’s general fund, spending on public schools increased in fiscal year 2011 and that it is the largest portion of the overall budget dedicating to schools in recent history. “He’s just wrong,” said Otter.
Sales tax exemptions
Allred has said throughout his campaign that the government of Idaho must examine sales tax exemptions – provisions in state code allowing certain businesses or transactions to forgo payments of sales taxes – to stabilize and shore up education funding. Otter rejects the plan and says that Democratic lawmakers had the opportunity to bring forth reviews in the 2010 legislative session, but failed to do so. The Republican supports a thorough review of all exemptions, but says that the provisions serve a purpose. ”All of those exemptions were put into place for a reason,” explained Otter. “All went into place because people thought they were a good idea at the time.”
Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, is crafting legislation similar to a law passed in Arizona earlier this year which, before courts stripped major provisions of the bill, allowed police officers to inquire into the legal status of people stopped through legal procedures. Otter said he would need to examine Nonini’s plan before accepting or rejecting it, but also feels that the federal government must do its duty on immigration. ”We’re hoping to just make the federal government focus on one of their responsibilities,” Otter said. ”That is to protect the border.” If the federal government cannot perform its required duty, he concluded, Idaho should act on the problem to protect the residents of Idaho from subsidizing illegal immigrants.
Gas tax increase
In 2009, Otter backed plans to increase the state gas tax rate by one penny and supported increases in registration fees for cars and light trucks. Both plans were soundly defeated by state lawmakers in one of the longest legislative sessions on record, prolonged due to the battle over the plans between the Legislature and Otter. After the defeat, Otter created a transportation task force to examine alternative funding methods for state roads and that panel’s report is due in December. Otter says that he will not take a position on potential gas tax hikes until the report is released. ”I’m not going to get out ahead of the report,” said Otter.
Online sales taxes
At a recent debate, Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna called on the government of the state to begin collecting sales taxes on out-of-state Internet purchases in order to bolster education funding. Allred agreed with Luna and wants to collect the tax, but Otter says he will let Luna work with legislators to deal with the issue.
The 2010 Legislature killed two versions of texting-while-driving bans, but the issue will almost assuredly arise in the next session. Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, is crafting legislation he hopes will clear both chambers and be signed by the governor. Otter didn’t close the door on signing the bill, but said that inattentive driving laws are likely sufficient to handle the problem. He also worries that if the state bans texting behind the wheel, laws will need to be passed to prohibit eating, putting on makeup, or shaving while driving.
The Democrat in the race wants state government to work within federal health care reforms to establish a state-managed system that would perform better than any systems implemented by Washington, D.C. At the time, Otter rejected Allred’s plan, saying that he wouldn’t beg the federal government for permission to implement policies within the borders of Idaho. Tuesday, Otter continued that opposition, saying that Allred would have to create a system worse than reforms passed by Congress earlier this year in order to receive approval from federal departments for implementation. He says he will continue to fight against reforms and mandates because he feels they are unconstitutional. ”I think Congress is realizing now that what it did was wrong,” said Otter.
Otter faces Allred, Independents Jana Kemp and Pro-Life, and Libertarian Ted Dunlap at the polls Nov. 2.