Otter, lawmakers talk legislative issues

BOISE, Idaho (KBOI) -- Gov. Butch Otter and legislative leaders from both parties talked with reporters about the major issues lawmakers will face when the legislature convenes on Monday, and in many ways, it's dj vu all over again.

The setting was the annual Associated Press legislative preview at the Statehouse.

Expect to see lawmakers take on education once more, as well as the long-discussed personal property tax.

And debate should be heated on establishing a state-run online health insurance exchange, something most lawmakers, even the governor, opposed prior to the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in support of President Obama's health care act.

Given the Supreme Court's ruling, Gov. Otter said Idaho "should be at the table."

But lawmakers must weigh in as well.

Just how far legislators will go on education this session is unclear.

Gov. Otter wants to establish a task force comprised of the public, educators, and other stakeholders and wait until the 2014 legislative session before enacting legislation.

In November, Idaho voters upended all three of Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna's laws to overhaul education, a blow not only to the state's top public schools leader but also to the governor who backed them.

"Our mistake Nov. 6 was in the process," the governor told reporters. "The voters did not think the process was transparent enough."

The new Speaker of The House, Rep. Scott Bedke, (R) Oakley, said he has heard rumblings that some lawmakers want to try and push overturned collective bargaining restrictions as well as teacher merit pay through the legislature one more time.

Despite his preference to hold off for a year, Gov. Otter said, "I am open to all education ideas. I am not going to prejudge any legislator on anything to do with education."

Lawmakers will also take up the effort to repeal the state's personal property tax, the tax on business equipment and furnishings that brings in about $140 million to Idaho, money that goes to counties and cities to pay for things like indigent health care, mental health care and public defenders.

For some small counties, the money is a lifeline. For example, 42 percent of Caribou County's budget comes from the personal property tax.

"Whatever path forward we take," Gov. Otter said. "We must do no harm to local units of government."

The personal property tax was almost repealed in 2008.