Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter delivered a grim State of the State message to assembled lawmakers in Boise Monday, as the 2009 session was set to begin. The speech was broadcast live by Idaho Public Television.
Citing the global and national economic downturn that has hit Idaho in multiple ways, Otter proposed a pared-down budget with several proposed hikes in fuel taxes and registration fees.
Several state agency budgets are on the chopping block for Otter.
"We just don't know how long or how bad this economic downturn is going to be," he said.
To help raise money to pay for a $240 million shortfall in Idaho's transportation repair backlog, Otter is proposing to increase the state fuel tax by 2 cents per gallon each year for five years, as well as raise vehicle registration fees.
"There's never a good time to raise taxes or user fees," Otter said. "I have fought against them my whole political career, but I'm also an old farmer and an agribusinessman. We are shirking our responsibilities."
The Idaho Public Schools budget, drawing on the state's "rainy day" reserve fund, will be hurt less, but still be cut by 5.34 percent, Otter said.
Democrats in the Legislature, a distinct minority, called Otter's proposal wrong-headed.
"The governor's proposed budget is a lose-lose for the people of Idaho—cutting education and health care while raising taxes to fill potholes," said House Minority Leader John Rusche, of Lewiston. "In these troubled economic times it is just plain wrong. It's wrong for Idaho's struggling economy and its wrong for struggling Idaho families and businesses."