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Idaho Gov. Little to deliver in-person State of the State address Monday at the Capitol

Idaho State Capitol building on March 23, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
Otto Kitsinger
Idaho State Capitol building on March 23, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

Last year, Little delivered the speech remotely due to COVID-19 concerns

Gov. Brad Little will unveil his proposals for education, the state budget, taxes and addressing Idaho’s projected record $1.6 billion surplus during his State of the State address Monday at the Idaho State Capitol.

Monday’s 1 p.m. speech is expected to be a return to a more traditional State of the State address compared to a year ago.

Little told reporters at a legislative preview on Friday at the Statehouse in Boise that he will deliver the address in-person from the House chambers to a joint session of the Idaho House of Representatives and Idaho Senate. Little also said he expects members of the judicial branch and other statewide elected officials to attend as well. He’s also heard from a few legislators and officials who said they won’t attend in the chamber due to the pandemic.

Due to COVID-19 concerns, Little delivered the 2021 speech remotely, from a separate location than legislators.

Little plans to address education, youth literacy issues in State of the State

As for the policy proposals in this year’s speech, Little plans to return to one of the signature issues from his first term in office — education and youth literacy.

Little said kindergarten through third grade literacy continues to be a top priority. Many legislators and pundits expect Little to follow the lead of the State Board of Education and his education task force and call for state funding of optional, all-day kindergarten. Currently, Idaho only funds half-day kindergarten, although most school districts now offer some form of expanded kindergarten.

“We’re going to work on early childhood (education), and kindergarten is a big part of it,” Little said Friday.

When asked by reporters, he sounded confident about getting something done this legislative session.

“I think something will take place,” Little said. “I’m not the world’s best vote counter, but I am good enough, I think.”

Taxes, specifically tax cuts, are also likely to be a part of the Statehouse debate in 2022.

“That’s kind of an all-hands-on-deck (effort),” Little said. “We have got to address what’s happened on property taxes.”

Despite the state’s projected record surplus, Little said he will propose a conservative budget to accompany his speech. He has noted that about $889 million of the projected surplus came from a one-time carryover of 2021’s record surplus into the 2022 budget year. Little has also said the injection of federal COVID-19 stimulus money, Idaho’s record growth and the state’s healthy economy have affected the budget picture but may not be sustainable.

“I still want to be prudent; you will hear a lot about prudence on Monday,” Little said.

Even though Little hasn’t formally announced his re-election bid, he is actively raising campaign funds and has raised more money than any other gubernatorial candidate.

Little didn’t leave much doubt when Idaho Capital Sun reporter Kelcie Mosely-Morris asked him Friday whether would run for a second term in 2022.

“I wouldn’t bet against it,” Little said with a smile.

What is the State of the State address?

The State of the State address is akin to Idaho’s local version of the U.S. president’s State of the Union address.

It’s delivered every year and offers the governor a chance to set the tone on policy and budget just as the new legislative session begins.

Just like the State of the Union, the State of the State attracts a lot of attention and scrutiny.

“The State of State is always interesting for us to be able to identify what the governor and his office view as the top priorities particularly through what they will outline in the budget,” said Jaclyn Kettler, associate professor of political science at Boise State University.

Several legislators said they will be listening closely when Little unveils his plans. Little also said he and his staff have been working on briefings for legislators.

“A clear vision is what I always look for and whether there is a theme,” Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, said in a telephone interview in December. “What I mean by that is, from policy area to policy area, does it seem to be a general approach he is asking for our cooperation in that is consistent? Is there a general approach to budget and policy making that casts a strong vision? Is that something my district can respond to favorably? Is that something I can respond to favorably?”

“If it’s an initiative the governor is requesting legislative help on, I’m really looking for him to set the tone on why it’s an important priority with a strong message and vision for where he wants to take the state,” Chaney added.

Even though Little plans a more traditional speech delivered to a crowded room filled with nearly every member of the entire state government, the coronavirus continues to spread across Idaho. Idaho Department of Health officials announced Thursdaythat statewide PCR testing positive rates essentially doubled the week after Christmas.

Since the first update of the new year on Monday, Idaho’s official coronavirus dashboard reports there have been 54 COVID-19 deaths in Idaho, for a total of 4,223 Idaho deaths since the pandemic began.

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state.