- Associated Press - Monday, January 9, 2017

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s top priority is education and little else for 2017.

The Republican governor has no plan to address the state’s growing lack of transportation funding, nor submit a proposal to provide health care to Idaho neediest during this year’s legislative session

Instead, Otter announced a short wish list during one of his shortest annual State of the State addresses on Monday afternoon. The speech marks the eleventh time Otter has kicked off the start of the legislative session with lawmakers, members of the judiciary and other leaders gathered in the Idaho Statehouse to hear his remarks.

“Ultimately, my education funding proposals are about doing the right thing for the next generation of Idahoans, and laying a foundation for their own refinement and adjustments to keep pace with a dynamic global marketplace,” Otter said.

Overall, the governor proposed a 4.6 percent increase - roughly a $189 million funding bump - to top the state budget at $3.62 billion in fiscal year 2018.

As constitutionally required, the majority of that budget proposed by Otter would be spent on education. This includes increasing public schools funding by 6.4 percent, or by $104 million; raising the college and university budget by 2.1 percent, or by $6 million; and bumping the community college budget by 3.4 percent, or roughly $2.1 million more.

However, Otter’s recommendation is just that - a suggestion. State lawmakers will now spend the next few months fine-tuning the state budget and passing policy, but they need the governor’s signature to become law.

“I will not entertain anything that undermines our commitment to meeting our essential state government functions,” Otter said. “At the top of that list are our investments in improving education and career readiness in Idaho.”

Other budget proposals include:

- $2.5 million to fund training on teacher evaluations to ensure a consistent system across the state.

- $2.4 million to fund 25 new medical residency programs, as part of the anticipated new medical school currently being developed.

- $11.2 million to fund behavioral health services to more than 7,300 parolees, as part of a new initiative with the Department of Health and Welfare.

- $2.2 million to fund 24 parole officers tasked with overseeing high-risk offenders

- $35 million to fund building projects at Boise State University, the University of Idaho, Lewis-Clark State College and Idaho State University

Advocates for expanding Medicaid eligibility in Idaho - as allowed under the Affordable Care Act - criticized Otter for failing to come up with a solution to the estimated 78,000 Idahoans who currently don’t qualify for Medicaid or make too much to for a subsidy.

Lawmakers adjourned in 2016 promising to address the Medicaid gap this year. But those Republicans have since backtracked those claims, pointing to the need to wait what happens now that Donald Trump is the president-elect and the Affordable Care Act is expected to be repealed.

“Now is not the time to pause and wait to see what happens,” said Tim Heinze, CEO of Valley Family Health Care, in a prepared statement. “Now is the time for the Idaho Legislature to take action to provide healthcare coverage to hardworking Idahoans who are uninsured.”

For the past few years, transportation funding, health care and taxes have joined the ranks with education as the Legislature’s hot button issues. With Otter focusing solely on education, it’s now up to legislative leaders to decide what other topics will take up the most energy.

It’s still unclear what social issues will emerge, though anti-abortion measures tend to be the most popular inside the Statehouse, which is controlled by a Republican supermajority.

Legislative leaders hinted at possible upcoming battles, primarily tax cuts and addressing what to do with the surplus in the state fund.

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