Gov. Otter urges legislature to 'replenish' public school funding

BOISE, Idaho (KBOI) -- With the economy rebounding, Gov. Butch Otter says it's time to make good on past promises, and strengthen funding for Idaho's public schools.

He told reporters he plans to aggressively pursue the $350 million, 20-point blueprint laid out by his education task force when the 2014 legislative session begins Monday.

"We will be working on a five-year plan," Gov. Otter said. "A five-year plan which will accomplish all 20 points."

The governor will outline his plan in his State of the State speech, which will be the highlight of the session's opening day Monday.

Otter made his comments during The Associated Press's legislative preview, a taste of what's to come in the session.

And legislative leaders agree education will be the driving issue.

"The good news is there is slow growth," said House Speaker Scott Bedke, "and we will have some new money to plow into these programs."

Republicans leaders also dampened expectations about broadening Medicaid eligibility this year, saying they want to overhaul Idaho's existing system to encourage beneficiaries to take more responsibility.

Otter and Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill said taking more federal money without revamping government-backed health care for the poor and disabled wasn't acceptable.

President Obama's health care overhaul envisioned adding more low-income single people to the entitlement program, but the U.S. Supreme Court left the decision up to states.

Idaho is among 25 states that haven't followed along.

House Minority Leader John Rusche said the GOP's reluctance on Medicaid was a sign lawmakers would avoid "tough discussions" in 2014, an election year.

The AP's John Miller encouraged Gov. Otter to use the podium at the legislative preview to formally announce his candidacy for governor.

"Nice try," said Otter, who later commented to one reporter: "What's the big secret?"

Sen. Russ Fulcher, (R) Meridian, has declared his candidacy for governor.