Congratulating the 105 men and women on winning their elections, Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter launched the 2013 Idaho Legislature this afternoon by making a hefty request to shore up fire management, a $70 million bond request to build a new mental health facility at the Idaho State Prison complex south of Boise, and the creation of a state-run insurance marketplace to "preserve for Idaho citizens the option of having a voice in how one element of [Obamacare] is implemented."
In a wide-ranging address to lawmakers televised across the state, Otter reflected on 2013 being the 150th anniversary of Idaho officially becoming a U.S. territory.
"No less today than in 1863—and in many ways more than ever—we citizens of Idaho have the opportunity and indeed the obligation to chart a path toward reflecting our independence," said Otter."Today I'd like to talk with you about how we use that freedom to advance our shared goals and values."
Otter immediately unveiled a proposed 2014 spending plan, calling for a modest 3.1 percent increase in General Fund spending.
Otter pushed back against the November general election, where Idaho voters roundly rejected the so-called Luna Law school reforms, saying "there was no electoral mandate for the changes we proposed on Nov. 6th."
"What I heard was dissatisfaction with the process and a plea for more collaborative leadership," he said. "I am neither calling for nor expecting major school improvement measures this year. But I believe there are areas in which we can make progress."
Otter also unveiled what he called the "Hire One More Employee" or HOME Act, recognizing the state's responsibility to hire more veterans, citing a higher-than-average unemployment rate among veterans.
"That's a national disgrace," said Otter. "And our state agencies are working together to focus public attention and address the problem through the Hire One Hero Program."
The HOME program is designed to offer a 4 percent income-tax credit, plus an additional $1,000 tax credit for each new employee hired who is a veteran.
Addressing pending changes mandated by the Affordable Care Act, Otter said he would not seek to expand Medicaid benefits at this time.
"Instead, I'm asking [Health and Welfare Director Dick Armstrong] to lead an effort to flesh out a plan for changing Idaho's system with an eye toward the potential costs, savings and economic impact," he said. "I hope to return in 2014 with specific proposals based on that work."
Next, Otter addressed the state's corrections department, advocating a new 579-bed mental health facility to be built south of Boise.
"No one likes spending money on prisons or inmates," said Otter. "But public safety is increasingly compromised by our inability to provide secure housing and appropriate treatments for mentally ill offenders."
Otter also singled out 20-year-old Ann Veseth, a Lewis-Clark State College student who was killed in August while working as a seasonal firefighter.
"We owe her and thousands like her a fighting chance while protecting our forests," said Otter. "That's why my budget includes a $400,000 request to help create four more volunteer fire protection associations."