Yesterday Idaho Governor Butch Otter released a scathing opinion accusing the press of a lack of civility and glossing over the facts when reporting on his proposed budget cuts this year. Quoting John Adams saying "facts are stubborn things," the opinon disputes claims that he wanted to cut funding for public schools and shut down seven state agencies.
But Governor Otter is trying to have it both ways.
In January, in an election year and facing "breathtaking" budget shortfalls, Otter attempted to veer back to his libertarian, government-shaking roots by proposing weaning some agencies off government funding. When those agencies turned out to be popular and his ideas widely criticized, even by traditionally very conservative editorial boards, he now says he really didn't mean it.
Otter's recently penned opinion lambastes media criticism of his budget plans, essentially claiming that he had no choice but to propose cutting public education budgets and denying that it was his intention to "shut down State parks and the Department of Parks and Recreation, Idaho Public Television, the Idaho Human Rights Commission, the Idaho Commission on Hispanic Affairs, the Idaho Council for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, the Idaho Council on Developmental Disabilities, and the State Independent Living Council."
He says that zeroing out these agency budgets over four years was an "effort to nudge those agencies toward the greater efficiency we need, or give them the chance to find alternative funding methods."
It was not an artful process. That’s a fair criticism. However, I did not propose closing any parks or eliminating any agencies. I did not propose “a batch of half-baked plans to zero out small but politically popular state services.” [Idaho Statesman] I did not ignore “hidden costs.” [Spokesman-Review] My approach was not, “If it brings joy to people, government has no business doing it.” [Boise Weekly] And I am not trying “to run parks or public TV on the cheap.” [Idaho Statesman]
Facts are stubborn things.
The governor would like to believe that criticism of his budget plan, including eliminating general fund revenue for popular state agencies, is unfounded but what did the governor expect people to believe when he said in his 2010 State of the State and Budget Address that his proposals for "sweeping changes" in State government were "meant to be permanent?"
Here is what he said then:
With that in mind, let me say again that the budget recommendations I bring you today are based on the fact that it is not State government’s money. It is the people’s money.
As a result, these recommendations are responsibly conservative.
They were developed with great care, deliberation and a full understanding of their consequences – real and perceived.
And they provide for a balanced budget, as our Idaho Constitution so wisely requires.
My recommendations include some sweeping changes to the way we do business in State government.
Those changes are meant to be permanent – based on a philosophy of government that recognizes our responsibility to individual Idahoans rather than to government itself.
I believe they represent what can and must be achieved within the realities we face, and to more closely align our government with its properly limited role.
He didn't say anything about "nudging" state agencies toward efficiencies as he now claims was his intention.
No. In fact he made his intentions quite clear.
There Otter is saying that some functions of current state government don't fit within his limited-government philosophy and should be realigned. Although he didn't explicitly state what agencies he believes fall outside that philosophy, he made it perfectly clear in his budget proposal—by phasing out their general fund revenue.
And he said that the decision to do so was "developed with great care, deliberation and a full understanding of their consequences." Only after being widely criticized for that decision does he concede that it was "not an artful process."
Facts are stubborn things.
Here is what the governor wrote in his fiscal year 2011 budget highlights:
The Governor’s recommendation fully integrates several legislative priorities that his office plans to advance during the 2010 legislative session, including the beginning of a four-year phase out of General Fund support for:
- Human Rights Commission
- State Independent Living Council
- Developmental Disabilities Council
- Deaf and Hard of Hearing Commission
- Hispanic Commission
- Idaho Public Television
The Governor’s recommendation includes the elimination of the Department of Parks and Recreation, with park maintenance being transferred to the Department of Lands and the fees portion being transferred to the Department of Fish and Game. The combination will result in fiscal year savings of $10 million with ongoing savings of $7 million annual. The goal is to ensure the continued operation of Idaho parks for residence [sic] and visitors.
Governor Otter can state that he "did not propose ... eliminating any agencies" but it wouldn't be true. He did--explicitly when he recommended eliminating Parks and Rec and implicitly when he said those other six agencies weren't worthy of taxpayer funding by eliminating general fund support for them.
Governor Otter can be the ax-wielding, limited government budget cutter or he can be the amiable, efficiency seeking budget nudger. He can't be both.
Governor Otter can criticize the critics but facts are stubborn things and his criticism embarrassingly epitomizes "hoist with his own petard."