- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 14, 2017

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - An eastern Idaho state lawmaker who thought his microphone was turned off on the floor of Idaho’s House during a break Tuesday uttered that some public teachers are “clearly overpaid” and said later he didn’t remember saying so.

“I know that quote would be attractive to reporters,” Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg told The Associated Press, insisting he did not recall making the comment.

Nate made the comment while talking to Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt, a Republican from Eagle, during a break from the House’s formal morning session to address technical issues with the internet. Lawmakers’ microphones are typically turned off when the House is taking a break.

“We all know our districts, we all know there are teachers there clearly overpaid,” Nate told DeMordaunt in a live streamed conversation sent from the House to the public.

After the House adjourned, Nate told reporters he believes teachers - especially those who teach math and science - are underpaid.

He said he must have misspoken when he made the comment about teachers being overpaid.

The comment heard over his microphone came after Nate argued against a budget appropriation proposal to add $2 million for counseling services in public schools.

He argued that the money could be spent to hire 53 more teachers. Throughout this legislative session, Nate has repeatedly debated against appropriation legislation to point out various budget increases could be better spent to fund teacher pay.

Nate’s comment over the microphone Tuesday generated scrutiny because Idaho is in the middle of a five-year plan to boost teacher pay.

State school administrators have long said they lose their best and brightest teachers to neighboring states because Idaho cannot compete with higher salaries.

Known as the so-called “career ladder,” the plan’s most expensive implementation - an additional $62 million in teacher pay raises - is scheduled to be passed this year by the Idaho Legislature.

“It seems like there is a growing disconnect between the Legislature and what the voters want when it comes to education and this comment is evidence of that disconnect,” said Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise.

Last year, Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill said Nate secretly recorded them talking during a meeting.

A judge ordered Nate to disclose the recording after he originally refused, citing privacy concerns.

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