Governor Little gives State of State address for 2023
Last week, recently re-elected Idaho Governor Brad Little delivered his 2023 State of the State address to the Idaho Legislature, featuring the promise to put “Idaho First”. The address began with a moment of silence for the four victims of the University of Idaho murders in November. “The loss of these incredible people is felt exceptionally, and we will never forget them,” the Governor said. “We will vigorously seek justice for the victims and the many loved ones they leave behind.”
Since Little first took office in 2019, he has repeated what he sees as his primary goal, which he again reiterated: “To make Idaho the place where all can have the opportunity to thrive, where our children and grandchildren choose to stay, and for the ones who have to choose to return.”
Little declared that “what we’re doing is working, and I am prepared to work with all of you to accelerate our pace, continue leading the country, and keep putting Idaho first.” Little prioritized support for Idaho’s schools, providing tax relief across the state, improving public safety, combating the fentanyl drug epidemic, and increasing spending on infrastructure.
Little announced proposals to fund a statewide drug interdiction team, training and testing, and a new educational awareness campaign to combat fentanyl in schools. ISP interdiction specialists are also being sent to the U.S./Mexico border to aid the state of Arizona in its work and learn from the frontline specialists working daily on international drug trafficking issues.
During the speech, Little announced a $330 million dollar initiative for public schools, and $80 million for “in-demand career training”. “Plain and simple,” Little stated, “the people of Idaho have given us a mandate: to stay on course, put Idaho first, and continue down this path of prosperity, and keep investing in education.” Little has proposed increasing the base salary of Idaho teachers to be more competitive nationally (to a starting salary of $47,477, ehich is within the top 10 nationally), boosting the existing pay and benefits for all teachers as well as classified staff, and increasing pay for security and support staff positions.
As a component of the education initiative, Little has also proposed using some of the education budget to provide scholarships to Idaho students. An $8,500 scholarship for graduating seniors has been called for, which would support their attendance at Idaho universities, community colleges, or workforce/technical training programs. Named the “Idaho Launch” program, it would constitute the largest investment in career and technical education in state history. “There are many pathways to success in today’s economy and all pathways deserve our support,” Little said. “For some students, it means getting their CDL, becoming a lineman, or pursuing welding. For others, it is engineering, teaching, healthcare, or business. No matter what path a student chooses, we are making it easier for them to get the advanced training training they need to propel themselves and Idaho’s economy forward.” $110 million has been proposed for community college and university infrastructure needs to “increase capacity and prepare for rising student demand in targeted fields.”
The “Empowering Parents” plan would also provide grants to help parents purchase computers and other necessary resources for students who have experienced learning gaps as a result of the COVID epidemic. $30 million has been directed to the program to help families “take charge of education expenses for their children.” $20 million has been devoted to the “Securing our Future Initiative” from on-time grants from the Office of School Safety and Security to improve and increase safety measures across the state. $30 million in additional one-time grants have also been called for to preserve and support information technology and infrastructure.
Little’s property tax plan calls for $120 million to defray property taxes and also fulfill the income tax reductions passed during the 2022 legislative session. Idaho currently ranks as one of the lowest property tax states in the country. The implementation of the 5.8% flat income tax, which was passed during the 2022 special legislative session, is also considered a priority. The estimated saving to Idaho taxpayers is $145 million.
The budget proposed during the speech also includes $1 billion in new infrastructure spending, which focuses on transportation. This funding will be directed to improving local bridges, airports, pedestrian and safety projects, and broadband internet access. Additional funding opportunities will also be made available to cities and counties for improvements in water and water resource management, energy issues, outdoor recreation, and agricultural concerns. $150 million has been designated for state water infrastructure and water projects around the state. $115 million has been assigned to support drinking water and wastewater upgrades, with an emphasis on rural communities. $100 million have been proposed for state parks and recreation areas. $12 million has been assigned for grants to farmers, ranchers, dairies, and confined animal feeding operations in an attempt to improve soil, water, and air quality in Idaho’s agricultural communities.
$200 million has been set aside for efforts to improve local bridges, $35 million to improve airports, and $10 million for pedestrian safety infrastructure. $100 million has been assigned to aid “economically significant local transportation projects that are otherwise beyond the reach of local government finances,” which is likely to be helpful for several upcoming and ongoing projects in Oneida county.
$100 million was also proposed to expand resources for mental health and childcare issues across the state. One of the mentioned areas of concern in this area was emergency medical services for rural communities, as well as mental health and counseling services for underserved communities. $72 million was directed toward the ongoing funding of an Idaho Behavioral Health contract that will provide mental health services to Medicaid beneficiaries, with most of the funds coming from federal dollars. $15 million from ARPA funds will be directed to grants supporting childcare facilities.
$3 million has been devoted to assisting independent physicians in establishing medical clinics to increase health care access across rural Idaho. $2 million has been allocated for child abuse and neglect prevention programs for at-risk families.
Little’s budget also calls for an increase to police budgets across the state, including a proposed 10 percent increase in pay for Idaho’s law enforcement officers.
The governor has proposed a 10% salary adjustment for state law enforcement, as well as funds for improved safety equipment, and additional staff to support the ISP’s sex offender registry unit. $14.8 million has been directed to the building of ISP facilities in Idaho Falls and Lewiston. $4.1 million has been designated for additional “safe teen reception facilities,” which are designed to provide an alternative to incarceration for troubled youth. $400,000 has also been allocated to support the “plea-diversion program,” which similarly attempts to find other remedies to incarceration.
Funds have also been set aside for a rainy day fund, a Fire Suppression Deficiency Fund, paying off deferred maintenance, and payments on several outstanding bonds. A surplus of over $200 million was left to provide a cushion against inflationary pressures.