Whose Budget?

Otter and Risch develop competing budget plans


It's easy to expect that a new governor might change a few things in state government as he assumes the post.

By his own reckoning, Governor-Elect Butch Otter is prepared to do just that, albeit gently, when he takes over next month from current Gov. Jim Risch.

That's not to say that Risch is idly sitting by. While Otter scrambles to assemble a staff and prepare for his own State of the State address, Risch is building a $2.7 billion budget for next year that writes several checks that Otter may not choose to cash. Among these things that Otter may reconsider: the new offices that Risch opened in Coeur d'Alene and Idaho Falls, the Idaho Drug Czar position, and several other initiatives.

Otter said in an interview last week that he has staff "working hard" on the budget, but that he has some questions. The budget Risch hands over to Otter is, after all, not set in stone, he said.

"That's what Governor Risch's budget is, is a proposal," Otter said. "Any initiatives that have been started, I'm going to take a good look at them."

He will not, he said, "trash-can" anything out of hand. But, he added, he has some questions.

"All of these things have to be looked at, whether it's the drug czar or opening those offices," Otter said.

He was, he reminded listeners, an early opponent of former Gov. Dirk Kempthorne's decision to open a lobbying office for Idaho in Washington, D.C.

"I didn't feel at that time that it would work," Otter said. "Quite frankly, I never got a report card on it. When I was in Congress, I told people, 'I'm your East Coast sales office.'"

As for the drug czar position, that may still be Risch's baby, even after he moves back into the lieutenant governor's office. Risch created the position this summer, and hired Boise City Councilor Jim Tibbs at a salary of $98,000.

"You need a person, not a committee," directing Idaho drug policy, Risch said.

Risch's spokesman, Brad Hoaglun, said Risch and Otter's staffs are in discussions about whether to keep the czar post in the governor's office, as it is now, or move it with Risch into the office of the lieutenant governor come January.

"I have every confidence that [Otter] will improve upon that budget," Risch told the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho conference last week.