Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's State of the State address on Monday put a lot of focus on a 7.4 percent increase in education spending. That's an increase of more than $101 million from the previous fiscal year, and a significant boost since the Great Recession.
"I think the education budget is a very ambitious budget," says Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. "Now I don't know what the superintendent will ask for, but I'm applauding the governor for that ambitious budget."
When it comes to the state's higher education goals, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee co-chairman agrees there's a lot of work to be done.
"I do think we have to work on tuition and costs a little more in achieving those goals of getting 60 percent of Idahoans in some sort of post-secondary education or certification [by 2020]. A large factor -- I believe -- is cost," Cameron says. "So with those increases, we need to figure out ways that we are not incurring additional costs for kids and adults to attend college."
The governor's budget recommendation includes a 3 percent funding increase for colleges and universities, and a 1.5 percent increase for community colleges.
At the same time Otter pitched a big budget increase, he's also asking for tax cuts, including a decrease in the tax rate for the top income earners in the state. Otter wants to reduce this group's tax rate from 7.4 percent to 6.9 percent over five years. Cameron isn't sure the Legislature will take this issue on this session, but he agrees with the philosophy behind it.
"That's another aggressive feature of his proposal, although he takes it in bite-sized pieces over five years," he says. "And we need a competitive tax structure in order to continue to grow our economy which will continue to drive more tax revenue. So we need that to continue."
Gov. Otter is also asking lawmakers to eliminate Idaho's tax on business equipment, a tax the Legislature began exempting in 2013 for 90 percent of payers.
Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, says she was happy to hear public education front and center in Gov. Otter's proposal. In addition to a big spending increase, Otter wants to boost pay for all public school teachers by 3 percent.
"We always want to talk about teacher pay because we want everyone in Idaho to have living wages and be competitive so we don't have [teachers] going outside our borders to better paying jobs and benefits," says Stennett. "So that discussion will need to continue, but I'm just really pleased about the initial steps and that the governor agrees with the task force recommendations and continues to do this ongoing plan we've all talked about."
Find reporter Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill
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