Times-News Editorial Board
January 12, 2010
Twin Falls Times-News
Monday, Jan. 11, set a new standard for Idaho: We, as a state, pulled the plug on our kids. As detailed in Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's State of the State Address, here's what happened:
* The governor recommended cutting $138 million from the state public school budget, on top of the $68 million that was trimmed this year. Said Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna: "Education is economic development, and we have to ensure that we don't do long-term damage because it will have an impact on the economy."
Luna told the Spokesman-Review of Spokane, Wash., that the Legislature "is going to have to immediately draft legislation that gives districts ultimate flexibility" to cope with the cuts, including an unprecedented $27.9 million in cuts this year.
The governor aims to use most of the $275 million remaining in reserve funds this year and in 2011 to help limit the depth of his austerity measures.
Otter proposed shielding Idaho's 115 school districts from a 4 percent holdback he ordered in September by using public education reserves. If school districts don't have enough local reserve money to meet contract obligations this year, Otter said, they'll be able to borrow it from the state but have to dip into their share of 2011 funding to pay it back.
In other words, this year or next the budget in your school district — not the neighboring school district, not somebody else's school district — is likely to be cut. Teachers may lose their jobs, classes will be slashed. Or both.
Already, minority Democrats are criticizing Otter for a budget that doesn't include an additional $82 million in tax revenue that the governor's chief economist, Mike Ferguson, forecasts will be collected during the course of 2011 as Idaho's economy emerges from the recession.
House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, accused Otter of taking advantage of the poor economy to pursue ideological goals of reducing government — at the cost of necessary services.
"It's basically politics over people," Rusche said. "We're going to cram kids like sardines into classrooms, all to preserve $82 million."
We all recognize the extraordinary circumstances that prompted Otter to make such recommendations. But we don't have to like it, and none of us should consider it acceptable.
* The proposed livestock research center in south-central Idaho is now officially in jeopardy. The governor has proposed delaying the state's $10 million appropriation.
* Otter is proposing gutting public television over the next four years — that's a 50-year-old institution that touches the lives of a majority of Idahoans.
* It's unclear whether there will be a Thousand Springs State Park a year from now, but the governor proposed folding management responsibilities at the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation into the Idaho Department of Lands and the Department of Fish and Game.
Nobody — from the most conservative Idahoan to the school teacher or the state employee who is about to lose his or her job — should consider any of this acceptable. We have a venerable tradition in the Gem State of taking care of our own.
And now we can't.
The Opinion posted here is provided by permission of its original publisher and does not necessarily reflect the views of Idaho Public Television.