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State of State: Gov. Otter focuses on higher education

Idaho is ‘...poised for even better times ahead’

Idaho Capitol Building

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Idaho Capitol Building



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Governor Butch Otter

Otter order on health insurance

BOISE — Gov. C. L. “Butch” Otter took time during his State of the State address to expand upon a healthcare-related executive order he and Lt. Gov. Brad Little issued Jan. 5.

Otter said the order would “stabilize Idaho’s healthcare insurance market and give more working Idaho families the ability to purchase affordable coverage.” The executive order, if implemented, would allow individuals to buy healthcare plans not approved by the Affordable Care Act.

“It will enable those with the most costly, medically complex conditions to move their coverage to Medicaid during the course of their illness,” Otter said.

“That, in turn, will enable insurance companies to reduce their premium rates for the majority of people who remain in the individual marketplace.”

The plan is aimed at reducing the price of coverage for the “young and healthy” and, according to a budget summary, is expected to affect about 35,000 Idahoans. Healthcare premiums rose 28 percent last year, according to Little.

At a legislative preview Jan. 5, Otter said if insurance companies were not limited by the ACA mandates that require coverage in many different areas, “these companies could drastically — up to 30 percent — reduce the cost of access.”

Coverage for contraceptives among other ACA-mandated areas of coverage like maternity, pediatric and dental care are still being finalized, Idaho Dept. of Insurance Director Dean Cameron said at the preview. Cameron assured that individuals could not be charged different rates based on their gender, though.

Otter and Little plan to tour the state and answer residents’ questions about how the policy change has impacted them.

— The second regular session of 64th Idaho Legislature convened Monday, Jan. 8, with Gov. C. L. “Butch” Otter displaying his high hopes for Idaho in his final State of the State and Budget address.

Speaking before a joint session of the House and Senate, Otter highlighted Idaho’s fast-growing population, diverse economy and discussed how the state will tackle issues such as healthcare and taxation, focusing especially on education. Nearly one-fifth of the 55-minute prepared speech — Otter’s longest State of the State — discussed education.

“Idaho is prosperous, positive, and poised for even better times ahead. Our population is growing fast. Our citizens are striving for a future with more opportunities and even brighter prospects,” he said. “And our state government is leaner, more fiscally responsible, more transparent, more responsive, and better prepared than ever to help Idahoans achieve their own best potential.”

His executive budget proposal calls for a 6.62 percent increase for Fiscal Year 2019, which begins in July and ends in June 2019, at $3.66 billion, and assumes revenues will exceed $3.8 billion. His revenue projections are roughly $200,000 higher than FY 2017’s projections.

Among the notable increases to education appropriations, the area with the largest portion of funds, are a 4.13 percent increase for public schools, a 12.96 percent increase for community colleges and a 3.35 percent increase in funding for colleges and universities.

In the address, Otter reflected on the state’s progress toward increasing the rate of Idahoans who go on to receive a college or technical degree, drawing on recommendations from a task force he assembled last year.

He said his higher education task force found Idaho will “never achieve” the state’s goal of reaching a 60 percent college go-on rate for residents 25 to 34 year olds under its current post-secondary structure.

“Its 12 recommendations focus on dramatically changing the way our system works to make it more integrated, consolidated and student-centric,” Otter said.

His plans for consolidation include allocating funding for the State Board of Education to hire an executive officer in FY 2019, which he earlier announced in a special SBOE meeting Jan. 4.

The position will consolidate support and administrative services, such as finance and technology, at public colleges. Presidents of Idaho’s eight public colleges would answer to the executive officer. He assured, though, that this would not be a chancellor system — where colleges become campuses of a central university.

Increasing Idaho’s go-on rate has been the state’s goal for several years, and Otter reiterated its importance to the state economy in his address.

“Here’s a staggering metric: The task force found that state income tax collections in Idaho will increase by $500 million a year — with no change in population — when the state reaches our 60 percent achievement goal, compared with today’s 42 percent,” he said.

Otter also discussed the allocation of an additional $5 million for the Opportunity Scholarship program aimed at addressing higher education access and affordability. The funds are projected to add approximately 1,490 recipients of the scholarship, according to projections from the state Division of Financial Management.

His budget proposal also included $6.5 million to increase literacy rates, an additional $10 million annually for school technology and an additional $5 million for college and career advising.

Responding to sweeping recent federal tax code changes — which the Associated Press reported may cost Idaho about $100 million a year in lost revenues — Otter said in his address he plans to enable “substantial conformance with the new federal tax code without putting our state revenues or Idaho taxpayers at risk.” This means the individual standard deduction will likely double.

The governor also proposed a non-refundable $85 child tax credit at the state level, which Democratic legislators later decried as not significant enough to offset federal changes for families.

The State of the State address was the last in Otter’s 12-year tenure, as he is not seeking re-election after serving three terms as governor. When his term concludes in December, Otter will have served more than 40 years in public office. Front-runner candidates for the 2018 GOP gubernatorial primary include Lt. Gov. Brad Little, U.S. Rep. Raúl Labrador and Boise businessman Tommy Ahlquist. Democratic candidates include Boise businessman A.J. Balukoff, Idaho Rep. Paulette Jordan (Dist. 5) and Troy Minton, a homeless man in Boise.



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