BOISE, Idaho — Idaho's 33rd Governor, Brad Little, opened up his State of the State address thanking his family, his supporters, the Idaho National Guard, and his wife.
Governor Little paid tribute to his predecessor, Governor Butch Otter, who Little said "led Idaho during a challenging time in our history, facing down the worst recession in 70 years." Little credited Idaho's rapid growth, the fastest in the United States, to Otter's leadership. Little said he didn't wish to focus only on the past, but on the future.
"I can tell you with confidence— the state of our state is strong," Little said.
Little spoke of Idahoan's incomes, the fastest growing in America-- right now, Idaho has the highest number of people employed in our state's history. He took the opportunity to highlight a few local businesses, including Woodgrain Millworks and Proof Eyewear, that he says are booming. Little explained these companies and many others across Idaho are giving Idaho children more opportunities to stay home or come back to Idaho.
"Our state is on an incredible trajectory," Little said. "With your help, I intend to lead us to the next level."
Governor Little said Idaho delivered one of the largest tax cuts in state history, and as a result, state income and business tax rates are the lowest since 1934. Few Idahoans know, but they need to update their tax witholdings because of changes to the federal tax code. Little promised his team is following the issue closely and will do all he can to avoid a surprise income tax bill for Idahoans. Little promised his tax reform plan will balance the books and eliminate the grocery tax.
"My budget recommendation will balance our books and fulfill important promises," Little said. "I propose working together with you to set the stage next year – using our budget surplus – to eliminate the grocery tax once and for all. Additionally, any new tax exemption should be tied to a proportional reduction in state spending or real income generation. As a conservative, I will utilize all other mechanisms to ensure our state remains fiscally sound over the longterm."
Little also discussed a hot button topic: education funding. For a variety of reasons, there has been much speculation behind education funding in the weeks surrounding the start of the legislative session. Little said the budget for Idaho schools has increased by 32 percent-- teachers in Idaho were even given one of the nation's largest year-to-year pay increases.
"Idaho has a successful record of responsible investment in education," Little said. "As Governor, I will continue our momentum and be an unrelenting advocate for educational excellence in our state. To amplify the voices of those on the front lines of education, I will create a Children’s Cabinet to advise me throughout my term on a variety of education issues. My Children’s Cabinet will consist of traditional education stakeholders, parents, and groups across our state dedicated to advocating for children."
Governor Little said the 4 Our Task Force on Public Education and its five year plan has been the force behind an "unprecidented, sustained effort" to improve Idaho's education system. His budget proposal would impement the fifth year of the task force's plan, putting in place the next phase of increased taecher salaries. Little also said he is reccomending an increase to the Advanced Opportunity program, which saves Idaho families in tuition costs for post-secondary opportunities.
He also discussed his plan for boosting literacy--doubling the literacy program's funding to $26 million. The school districts will decide the best ways to use those funds, he said.
"They will choose from a variety of proven intervention methods such as full-day kindergarten, reading coaches, and summer reading programs," Little said. "The variety of methods recognizes no one kid is the same and that Boise may not have the solution for what works in Bonners Ferry or Blackfoot. Our goal must be to ensure all kids begin at the same starting line in life. By the third grade, our students must learn to read so they can read to learn."
Little also is recommending raising teacher starting pay to $40,000 a year, and increasing funding for Opportunity Scholarship applicants.
"As we reward our educators we expect school districts to continue working with us on reporting measurements that Idahoans need to validate increased education investments," Little said. "We are proud of these efforts but there is still more to do. Drawing on the successful model we’ve been using, I invite you to join me in creating an initiative I’m calling Our Kids, Idaho’s Future. The charge of this broad-based task force will be to look at our education system holistically and prioritize where we should invest the next available dollar. This initiative will provide Idaho’s next five-year blueprint for education investment and reform. I will continue to focus on increasing Idaho’s go-on rates and accomplishing our goal of having 60-percent of our 25- to 34-year olds with a completed degree or a professional certificate. To do that, we must expand career technical opportunities. "
Governor Little said a strong education system means a strong Idaho.
"Most importantly, a strong education system helps ensure we keep our best and brightest here in Idaho," Little said. "In my work on economic development, I know there’s a strong correlation between our education system and the attractiveness of our state to entrepreneurs and businesses."
Governor Little promised to champion citizen confidence in the government, even expressing his own frustrations.
"I’ve been frustrated with the major shortcomings in customer service at the Division of Motor Vehicles," Little said. "The issues stem from contracting procedures. I have asked my new director at the Department of Administration to identify critical lessons from the DMV situation and provide a thorough review of our state purchasing and contract administration processes. Idahoans deserve an action plan for better results from government."
On election day, 60 percent of Idahoans voted in favor of Medicaid expansion, something Little says he will honor.
"I intend to work with you to implement Medicaid expansion using an Idaho approach. We need spring in our safety net so that there are multiple pathways for the gap population to move off Medicaid and onto private coverage. While making health care available to low-income individuals we should also do what we can to make affordable, accessible, quality health care available to all Idahoans. An unintended outcome of the Affordable Care Act is that too many people are priced out of health insurance coverage. In the past two years, the number of uninsured Idahoans increased by 125,000 – almost double the gap population," Little said. "As Idaho continues to enjoy the fastest-growing economy in the nation, the number of insured Idahoans should be increasing not decreasing. We must pursue strategies that contain health care costs. That’s why I joined with Governor Otter last year in issuing an executive order on state-based individual market health plans. As Governor I will continue these efforts. These health care plans are comprehensive and provide our citizens more affordable choices. The fact is we have a proven track record of delivering Idaho solutions on health care. When Idaho opted for a state-run health insurance exchange, we created an Idaho solution instead of adopting a federal one-size-fits-all mandate. Your Health Idaho has since been recognized as one of the best exchanges in the country. I intend to continue developing Idaho solutions that bring health care costs down for all Idahoans. I have met with federal partners to pursue alternatives for affordable health care plans. I will fight for state flexibility and state control to develop Idaho solutions for Idaho families."
Governor Little also discussed Idaho's overcrowded prisons, offering a solution.
"In addition to providing timely relief to Idaho’s overcrowded prisons, these combined 220 beds focus specifically on helping those in custody acquire critical skills to successfully transition back into society after release. Former offenders cannot be successful after reentry and on parole if we don’t have the necessary bed space and programs – such as drug courts – to halt the revolving door," Little said. "Help for substance abuse is often only available once a person becomes an offender. There is a clear nexus between mental health and substance abuse. We must intervene in these areas prior to individuals entering our criminal justice system."
Little said his first executive order as Governor will put in place two of the recommendations from the Licensing Freedom Act: sunrise and sunset processes for future occupational licensing laws. To reduce overall regulatory burdens on our citizens and businesses, He said he will issue another executive order requiring state agencies to revoke two regulations for every new regulation they want to implement.
"This commitment to cutting red tape will ensure we are governing with the lightest possible hand. Looking long-term, we must address transportation deficiencies," Little said."I ask you to join me in looking at these longterm needs – specifically, the safety of our roads and bridges and the necessary improvements to preserve our citizens’ most precious commodity: their time. It is critical that we provide the needed road capacity to get our people and products to their destinations in the most efficient manner. All these efforts will help Idaho remain a beacon for prosperity and opportunity in America."
Agriculture remains the backbone of Idaho’s rural economy, but agriculture is coping with the effects of significant challenges, from commodity prices to transportation and trade. As they have for generations, progressive farmers and ranchers meet these challenges by increasing their production and efficiency, Little explained.
Idaho’s wheat yield was up 15 percent and set a record this year. The barley yield is up 10 percent from last year, and alfalfa is up 19 percent. Idaho jumped Oregon to become the number two hop producing state in the nation. In the past 16 years, Idaho’s dairy production has doubled, although in 2018 it struggled. Little said Idaho remains a heavily trade-dependent state, with around $2 billion in agricultural exports. When markets are open, agriculture makes the most of those opportunities. The profitability of Idaho agriculture and its ability to compete nationally and internationally is dependent upon the time and cost of getting products to consumers
Little said Idahoans must focus on protecting water and land resources around the state.
"I look forward to working with you to increase rail access, address truck shortages, and reduce the burdens of federal regulations. You all know water is Idaho’s lifeblood, and we’ve made great strides in protecting it. 8 Under the leadership of the Water Resource Board, we have doubled our goal of refilling and replenishing our critically important Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer, adding more water this year than was removed. While this is an impressive accomplishment, this must be an ongoing effort," Little said. "Regardless of the water year, we must focus on expanding the water infrastructure across our state. If water is Idaho’s lifeblood, our public lands are surely one of our state’s greatest assets. Idaho-based collaboration is key to addressing the many issues facing public lands. Together, we must responsibly manage and protect the special places that make Idaho unique. As Governor, I will work to expand access and tackle threats to our public lands."
Little said there are threats to Idaho's public lands that must be confronted.
"Wildfire is a part of living in the West. Several factors contribute to the increasing frequency of catastrophic wildfires. These fires threaten public safety and pump millions of tons of pollutants into the air, harming the health of our citizens. They damage wildlife habitat and contaminate our pristine waters," Little said. "They disrupt our economy and cost taxpayers millions of dollars every year. One of those threats is the buildup of fuels on our public lands closest to where we live, work, and play. A few weeks ago, I signed a first-of-its-kind agreement between Idaho and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This collaborative agreement will reduce wildfire risk, improve forest health and enhance wildlife habitat, by actively managing more acres of federal forests."
Little said the new “shared stewardship” approach unifies land management activities that are now disjointed across federal, state, and privately-owned tracts. Idaho will work to reduce fuels around communities, including timber harvest, prescribed burns, and other activities.
Little said they're already seeing a return on investment in the Good Neighbor Authority, a program that utilizes state employees and contracting processes for restoration work on federal lands. In addition, there are now over 300 ranchers and farmers who are members of nine rangeland fire protection associations across southern Idaho. The initial attack and intel they provide on more than 9 million acres of Idaho’s rangeland have given Idaho significantly improved chances against the devastation of large wildfires.
The Idaho National Laboratory (INL) is one of our state’s largest employers and Little said he's impressed with the collaboration he's seen.
"I have been impressed to see collaboration between the lab and our state’s universities. Those enhanced ties will result in a more secure nation, a thriving laboratory, and strengthened university programs. Most importantly, it presents opportunities for our state’s best and brightest students to work and raise their families right here in Idaho," Little said. "With that in mind, I am pleased to announce that I am authorizing the continuation of the Leadership in Nuclear Energy (LINE) Commission. The LINE Commission will remain dedicated to advising us so we can promote the advancement of nuclear energy and ensure the vitality of the INL."
Governor Little concluded, announcing "Idaho is ready to lead," and thanked everyone for attending.
If you missed the speech, you can watch the whole thing here: