Gov. Butch Otter named jobs and education as his top two budget and policy priorities for 2012 and said they are “inseparable.” The governor gave his 2012 State of the State and Budget Address to a joint session of the Idaho House and Senate as state lawmakers began their annual session today.
The Idaho Education Association was glad to hear the governor mention education as one of his top two priorities and indicate that he knows that education is itself a powerful job creator. “Preparing Idaho students for the wider world and for reaching their greatest potential right here at home is a constitutional responsibility for state government,” he said.
Otter said that his budget would “fully fund” the school reform mandates pressed by Superintendent Tom Luna and passed by the 2011 Legislature, “including its technology and pay-for-performance elements.” After the speech, Luna said in a statement, “Everyone is excited we will be able to increase funding for public schools for the first time in four years.”
But Idaho’s schools have suffered a quarter-billion dollars in cuts over the past three years, money that is gone forever. It was unclear from the governor’s remarks what his budget will do to keep class sizes low and invest not in untested gimmicks, but in proven means of boosting student achievement including smaller class sizes and early childhood education.
In other education matters, Gov. Otter:
• Called for setting aside a total of $60 million in the Public Education Stabilization Fund, as well as the general Budget Stabilization fund and a new Higher Education Stabilization Fund.
• Sought $41 million from the General Fund in FY 2013 “to reward our most deserving employees, including our public school teachers.” But he noted that the “rewards … should be in the form of one-time payments” and will only happen if tax revenues meet projections. It was unclear whether these payments include the Pay for Performance bonuses promised in Senate Bill 1110 or whether they are separate one-time bonuses to help all teachers and other public employees.
• Asked for $45 million in tax relief for FY 2013 to “ensure that economic opportunity finds a welcoming home here in Idaho” and “to keep more of our taxpayers’ money in their pockets, where it will do our communities and our people the most good.”
Those three promises would cost $146 million, or more than the current projected budget surplus for FY 2012 of $130 million. Otter also pledged to promote a project called IGEM (Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission) which will include targeted investment to draw new jobs to Idaho. So lawmakers and everyday Idahoans will examine the details of the governor’s proposals to see how he anticipates funding his top two priorities of jobs and education.