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Controller Gets Political


Idaho State controller seems like a pretty nuts-and-bolts sort of job; keeping the books straight and managing the business of the state. So imagine our surprise when we got word from Idaho State Controller Donna Jones with a few suggestions of a distinctly political nature, about roads and taxes.

First things first: Jones was prepared to announce, with fanfare, that at the end of Fiscal Year 2007 (June 30), Idaho's general fund had a surplus of $247 million.

Not content to just report the facts, Jones, a former lawmaker, said she had some good ideas for the use of that money. In particular, she'd taken note of Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's interview in the Idaho Statesman recently, in which he suggested raising taxes to fund $200 million in necessary road work.

She doesn't like the idea and has a better one, according to a statement released by her office Monday.

"As a former legislator, seeing a surplus of this magnitude brings two thoughts to mind. First, taxes are too high on Idaho's families. Second, instead of looking at raising taxes to pay for road and bridge repair, the Legislature could potentially use $200 million of this surplus to tackle Idaho's backlog of road repairs," said Jones.

In political speak, the above is known as "going off the reservation."

Jones went on to say that Idaho has a history of using the surpluses to pay for spendy projects. Former Gov. Jim Risch (now the lieutenant governor) used some of our surplus last time around to cut property taxes and boost the state's rainy-day fund for schools.

"Poorly maintained roads hurt businesses and families," said Jones. "Investing in our transportation infrastructure now, before it crumbles, will be good for commerce, save lives, and will help reduce the burdens of traffic congestion and long commute times on Idaho families."

In response, Jon Hanian, Otter's spokesman, repeated some of the lines he's had to use on a few reporters in the past: "We appreciate her concern," said Hanian, who added that the governor and his controller had not spoken prior to Monday's news release from Jones's office. "We know that she recognizes, as we do, the deteriorating state many of our roads, highways and bridges are in," Hanian said. "But when it comes to using surplus funds, there seems to be many more ideas as to what to do with it than there are matching dollars."

Otter, Hanian said, is not a fan of using one-time cash like a surplus to fund ongoing needs like roads. And, he added, Jones is only the first out of the gate with a dandy idea for how to spend the surplus. "We'll have lots of folks trying to help us spend that," Hanian said.