Gov. Butch Otter says he lost control of his message to agencies

Brian Murphy
February 18, 2010
Idaho Statesman

Gov. Butch Otter said Wednesday that he had no intention of removing general-fund financial support from several commissions, councils and Idaho Public Television, but he proposed that in his budget to motivate them to shoulder their share of state budget cuts.

"I wanted them to think that (they would be zero funded). I wanted them to think that," Otter told the Idaho Statesman's editorial board. "How else am I going to get them to respond?"

Otter said most agencies complied when he asked them early last fall to deliver plans for operating on reduced budgets. Some did not comply despite continued prodding, he said.

Otter said he does not hire the heads of the commissions or the general manager at IPTV, so he used one of the few tools at his disposal to get them to deliver plans for operating with reduced funding.

"My intent is to get as close to them being self-sufficient as I possibly can," Otter said. " . . . And to send a pretty strong signal that if (lawmakers) create any more such agencies, they better be prepared to be self-sustaining instead of automatically going on the general fund."

Otter said he was not able to control the timing of his message as he intended. He wanted to break the news of the budget cuts in his State of the State speech. But Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, let the news out in early December, and that led to questions before Otter and his staff were ready to answer them or had fully vetted the ideas, he said.

"Had I been the architect of everything, I certainly would have tried to deliver the message as firmly as possible to the agencies, and as understanding as possible to the general public," Otter said.

He added: "I offer my mea culpas for the way I handled it."

There has been public outcry over some of the funding cuts - for the Department of Parks and Recreation, IPTV and the Human Rights Commission in particular.

But Otter said that ultimately the ideas have worked. Funding solutions are being worked out for the Human Rights Commission, parks and recreation and, potentially, the Idaho Commission on Hispanic Affairs. But he's still not satisfied with IPTV. The station finally delivered a business plan to him last week, but it isn't satisfactory, he said.

"It's unfortunate that it happened that way in one sense. In another sense, it did create an awful lot of input," Otter said. "It did."

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