Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter began outlining his budget and policy priorities for state lawmakers during his "State of the State" address Monday afternoon, naming public education as his primary focus for the year.
The annual speech kicks off the start of the legislative session, with state lawmakers, members of the judiciary and other leaders gathered in the Idaho Statehouse to hear Otter's remarks.
Otter reminded lawmakers of the state's constitutional requirement to provide a general, uniform and free public school system. He proposed a 7.9 percent increase to the state's public education budget. That would bring the total to $1.59 billion. It's the second year in a row that Otter has proposed steep hikes for education spending.
Update, 1:25 p.m.: Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter has proposed funding an additional behavioral health community crisis center for the state at a cost of $1.7 million.
Otter first proposed establishing crisis centers for the mentally ill in three Idaho cities in 2014, with plans to expand eventually to seven across the state. So far, two of the centers have been created — the first in Idaho Falls and the second in Coeur d'Alene. The centers seek to help residents with mental illness who would otherwise face jail, emergency room treatment or other expensive interventions that often don't provide effective or ongoing help for their problems.
Otter said that during the first nine months that the Idaho Falls center was open, it had more than 1,000 admissions and diverted 47 people from more expensive in-patient psychiatric care. It also saved an estimated 860 hours of law enforcement officers' time, he said.
The newest center would be in southern Idaho, Otter said, though he didn't say exactly where.
Update, 1:20 p.m.: Otter is proposing a new program that would freeze college and university tuition for incoming freshman so they would pay the same rate for at least four academic years.
During his annual address to state lawmakers on Monday, Otter said the program will provide financial predictability for students and families while also provide incentive to finish their higher education in four years.
The governor is also recommending spending $5 million in scholarships for Idahoans with some college education, but who do not have a degree.
Overall, the governor is proposing an 8.8 percent increase in spending for four-year colleges and universities and more than 9 percent funding increase for community colleges for fiscal year 2017.
Update, 1 p.m.: Otter is proposing a 7.9 percent increase to $1.59 billion to fund Idaho's public schools, marking a second year in a row the Republican governor has proposed steep hikes to education spending as the state continues to recover from the economic downturn.
Otter announced his budget proposal for fiscal year 2017 during his tenth State of the State address to lawmakers. It signaled the beginning of the 2016 Idaho Legislature.
His budget includes nearly $40 million to fund the second installment of a five-year plan to boost teacher pay. There is also a call for $25 million for the state's colleges and universities to expand research and workforce development.
"We are entrusted with the singular constitutional responsibility of providing for a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools throughout Idaho. Frankly, I'm convinced that we would see this as our highest priority, even if it wasn't in our Constitution. So promoting and constantly improving education for the people of Idaho must be the foundation of our work together," Otter said.
Otter says education spending is his top priority for lawmakers to address over the next three months.