Failing at the Three E's

Before giving Butch Otter a third term, consider his track record on education, the economy and the environment

There are three solid reasons Idaho voters should reject Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter's bid for a third term. They constitute major failures on his part to fulfill the basic "Three E" requirements for anyone in the office: education, the economy and the environment.

A governor takes an oath to uphold the state's constitution, which clearly states the primary purpose of the state government is to provide for a uniform and equal public education of the state's young people. The governor has failed miserably, as the record reflects nothing less than a deliberate evisceration of state support for both K-12 and higher education.

This evisceration has led more than 80 percent of the state's school districts to pass override levies, increasing individuals' local property taxes to replace what the state has taken away. For residents of those districts, it's nothing less than a tax burden shift and a tax increase brought about by a governor who claims he has lowered taxes. Facts say otherwise.

Idaho's former state economist Mike Ferguson has presented evidence showing that after decades of the state spending on education at roughly 4.4 percent of annual personal income, starting in 2000 a steady decline began and accelerated under Governor Otter's watch to where the figure is now, 3.4 percent — a 20 percent cut under Otter and his Republican predecessors.

Idaho now ranks 51st in the country (including D.C.) — dead last, below even Mississippi, in state support for public education. What was even more surprising to many was that the Governor endorsed his Education Task Force's recommendation to add back $350 million to $400 million that had been drained away from education. Then he turned around and, in his next executive budget, recommended even less, the equivalent of 3.3 percent of personal income.

That's disingenuous at best. At worst, it's blatant lying.

In the meantime, the Governor spearheaded a number of measures he claimed were designed to stimulate the economy but were nothing more than general fund giveaways to big business. They came at a cost to education.

Set aside that these incentives have developed few if any good-paying jobs. Otter tries to make a virtue out of growth in minimum-wage jobs while not acknowledging that these jobs cannot, and do not, provide a sustainable living wage for people.

Additionally, these incentives often come at the expense of Idaho's existing businesses, which both directly and indirectly end up subsidizing the new boys on the block.

Years ago, when Hewlett-Packard was looking around the country for a location to build a new assembly plant, they came calling on Governor Cecil D. Andrus. Andrus told them what a great labor force they would have and what a great life they'd find, with all sorts of recreational opportunities available to pursue on the weekends.

He pointedly said there were no giveaways or subsidies because they would come at the expense of existing businesses. H-P was welcomed as long as they understood they had to pay their fair share like all Idaho businesses. H-P came because they understood a competitor five years down the road would not come in and be given goodies that were not available to them.

They understood the "level playing field."

The governor's third major failure is especially surprising for a Republican: Otter has failed miserably to protect Idaho's water. Perhaps you noticed a little news item around Oct. 1, which said the Department of Energy had failed to make another deadline on the cleanup of nuclear waste materials at the National Lab site out in the Arco Desert.

The lab, of course, sits above the priceless Snake River Plain Aquifer, a major source of irrigation water for Idaho farmers. This was a major milestone that was missed and not one peep came from the governor's office.

There's a memorandum of agreement that specifies penalties for missed deadlines, but did anyone hear the governor saying Idaho would impose them? Nor have Idahoans heard much from the Governor supporting Congressman Mike Simpson's efforts to keep the Environmental Protection Agency from trying to eliminate the distinction in the Clean Water Act between navigable waters (which they oversee) and non-navigable waters, like groundwater (which the state oversees).

Simpson has been fighting for four years to leave the language as is and to thwart this latest intrusion. In 2010 this effort was brought to the attention of the Governor, and the response was basically nothing until this past August, when he issued a press release supporting Simpson.

If Idaho farmers think they have a friend in Otter, they better think again.

Hopefully all Idaho voters will look at Otter's record and conclude he has done nothing to merit a third term. ♦

Chris Carlson is the former press secretary for Gov. Cecil Andrus. He lives on Cave Lake in North Idaho.

Mardi Bras

Feb. 1-March 3
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