Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Otter?s legislative agenda rates some darts, some laurels


A governor's view of Idaho's needs and the state Legislature's idea of needs are usually as different as sunsets and sunrises. So, Gov. Butch Otter's agenda for legislative action won't look the same by the time lawmakers thrash through his proposals and adjourn their 2008 session several months hence.

One of the most striking of the governor's proposals in his brisk State of the State address on Monday is a proposal to allow local voters to decide whether to tax themselves to pay for bridge and road repairs and improvements.

Is this the governor's libertarian instinct at work? Or, under the guise of "local control" is he trying to foist state responsibilities onto cities and counties and duck what Idaho's state budget should be funding?

And why did he avoid proposing a more important local control—the ability to tax and fund local transit?

As rising fuel prices, longer commutes and congestion snarl highways around Boise and in Blaine County, the need for good public transit increases. Lawmakers should give all cities and counties the option to build transit systems with local-option sales taxes.

Public transit demand may be even more profound in Blaine County in years ahead if a distant new airport is built and a reliable public transit system between cities and the new airfield will be needed.

The governor was silent on the issue of a state licensing authority for new power plants, despite his call for accelerated use of alternate energy-producing sources. Idaho is the proverbial sitting duck, as energy conglomerates scan the states in search of sites for nuclear and coal plants that would be easily approved by local politicians who lack the technological know-how to assess the environmental impact of big plants. Legislators who supported a siting law unsuccessfully in the past should renew their best efforts.

The governor, however, deserves kudos for recognizing the need for expanded drug and mental health treatment facilities, for consolidating the state's 84 Internet servers into a more manageable and efficient system, and for slapping a priority label on the notion of zero-based budgeting so departments and agencies must justify each request each year.

Independent-minded legislators, of course, have their own ideas on whether Gov. Otter's agenda is to their liking, and whether they need to add programs that he may or may not approve.

However, the governor and legislators must remember this: Idaho is growing at a furious pace and 21st century thinking is paramount to meet the state's needs.




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