Friday, January 15, 2010

Otter’s lack of leadership disappoints

The contrast couldn't be starker.

The primary theme of Idaho Gov. Butch Otter's State of the State message this week was a call to cut the budget and wait for better times to come calling.

One state over, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire's message was a call to try new things to get the state's economy going.

Otter gave lots of lip service to innovations by businesses, but showcased no new initiatives or partnerships to create more jobs. He called for more deep cuts in education, phasing out funding to public television, eliminating the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, closing state parks and delaying spending on a new livestock research center near Twin Falls.

He utilized a silo overflowing with trite phrases about the indomitable spirit of Idahoans and quotes from President Ronald Reagan about why government must get small and get out of the way.

The speech was superficial, a speech for another era—not the one we're living in today.

Otter said his administration had listened to a lot of people around the state. Even so, the lack of vision he exhibited in the speech indicates either that Idahoans aren't very creative or that Otter simply is averse to risking any personal political capital in trying to dig the state out of its economic ditch.

The governor left it largely to private businesses and non-profits to come up with ways to get the state going again and to keep education afloat while his vision calls for state government to keep plodding along in the same old, slow way, but with less to spend.

It was decidedly dispiriting.

Gregoire's speech called for big budget cuts, but she also called for bringing in $2 billion in new capital investment.

She targeted fields that included biotechnology, software and renewable energy for development. She called for a new tax credit for businesses that create new jobs.

Contrast this with Idaho, which simply raised unemployment taxes with no corresponding tax credit for job creation.

Gregoire called for creating 40,000 new jobs. She acknowledged federal bailout money that may be available to states in the coming year, while Otter failed to acknowledge that even his own economists say Idaho may collect more money in the next budget year than last.

Gregoire is doing what good executives do. They outline goals and then align organizations to achieve them.

No one expected Otter to whitewash the seriousness of the economy. Still, something beyond the status quo and ideas to move the state toward future growth were not too much to expect.

To simply call on Idahoans to hope for the best was deeply disappointing.

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