Extended Interviews: The Governor’s Turn
We’ve heard the lawmakers’ takes on this year’s legislative session. Now it’s the governor’s turn to weigh in. Idaho Reports was invited last week to interview Gov. Brad Little at his home and ranch in Emmett and talk about the legislative session.
“I always reflect back on my State of the State and what we talked about,” Little told host Melissa Davlin. “My education initiative, my Idaho Launch initiative, our infrastructure initiative – all of those things were done, most of them with very little deviation from what I proposed, so I was pleased.”
TRANSCRIPT: At Home with Gov. Brad Little
Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports: Thanks for joining us. I wanted to start by getting your overall thoughts on the session.
Gov. Brad Little: It’s over. You know, I always reflect back on my state of the state and what we talked about in the state of the state. And then, you know, there’s always distractions and issues. It seems like they get to be more intense at the end of the session, which is not new. Maybe a little more than it used to.
But, you know, we get all we got done. My education initiative, my Launch initiative, our infrastructure initiative, all of those things were done, most of them with very little deviation from what I proposed. So I was pleased.
IR: We’ll get into specific policies later, but I did want to ask if any of those issues that came up, especially the social issues, were a surprise to you this year.
Little: It seems like there always are some of them. They you know, they’re in there are quite a few them that didn’t get through also. But that’s seems to be the time we live in. And I believe a lot of it is people through their whatever, however they get their information, see things happening in other states, and they’re very concerned about it.
So they want to do something in Idaho that really doesn’t address an an issue in Idaho as much as it does something from some other state. And given the fact that there’s so many people from California and Washington and Oregon moving into Idaho, you can see where that would be an issue.
IR: Sure. Well, especially with people getting their news from social media and not necessarily from local outlets, I know that that plays into the conversation, too. I wanted to ask about Medicaid. You know, there was a lot of concern from lawmakers this year about the expanded budget, you know, the highest we’ve ever seen. And we know that the Department of Health and Welfare is currently in the redetermination process to figure out who is still eligible under expansion after the COVID-19 federal emergency ended.
We know that some will no longer qualify and have to shift to private insurance. Some lawmakers have expressed concern about the six month timeline for that rich redetermination process, saying that it’s taking too long. Are you happy with the pace?
Little: Well, I’m also concerned. And, you know, Medicaid is has been an issue. And, of course, we did the expansion. And then the federal government came along and because of the emergency during COVID, said anybody that was on Medicaid would have to stay on Medicaid. We’ve got by almost every measurement, one of the best exchanges, state managed exchanges, which is allows people to get insurance and various other places of any place.
And I want people that are really deserving to be on Medicaid, but I want people to get off of Medicaid and go on private insurance and employer insurance and insurance relative to their job. And there’s going to be some time frame for that determination. Director Jeppesen tells me that he cannot train up people to ask the right questions to be in compliance with both state and federal law overnight.
So to hurry that along, which we’re all we all want to do that, has some logistical challenges because of the learning curve it takes to be sensitive. And the other problem is getting a hold of people. Everybody used to have a landline. Now it’s through text, it’s through phone. People don’t take phone calls from numbers they don’t know. So it’s much more difficult to get a hold of people than it used to be in the past. And those are the challenges. But we’ll get there.
IR: We know that expansion is just one reason that the Medicaid budget is is so large. Are you satisfied with the other steps the Department of Health and Welfare is doing to reduce those Medicaid costs?
Little: We’ve when I hired Dave Jeppesen four and a half years ago, that was one of the conversations we had. You know, he came from the health care industry, so he was aware of that. And I says, I want to get I want to get the cost of Medicaid down to the taxpayers. Everybody knows I’m an education guy. And the two things that have been the drivers of the economy, contrary to education and contrary to tax relief, are Medicaid and corrections.
We’re making good progress in corrections, but we literally have more control over corrections than we do over Medicaid. And with the lack of control the state has, it’s more difficult. But we’re still on a mission to get the cost of Medicaid down.
IR: When you when you talk about progress that we’ve made with corrections, are you talking about the recidivism rates going down over the years?
Little: Well, and that we got, we have programs for people. It takes a while. But if if if you take an incarcerated person, you know, they’re going to get out. You know, they’re going to be back on the street and you know, one thing we didn’t do before was even let them have a driver’s license. Now they have a driver’s license. Now they have a pathway to a job. Now they have a skill. And all of those things are going to lower our recidivism rate.
IR: Back to the Department of Health and Welfare. You know, Attorney General Labrador, as you know, is investigating recipients of community grants from health and welfare that have been doled out since 2021. Were you given a heads up that this investigation was coming?
IR: Have you had conversations with Attorney General Labrador about it?
Little: Well, we yes, we talked about it. But I you know, it was like, oh, it’s okay, it’s okay. And then it’s not okay. And that’s but the that investigation will play out and we we want to be compliant with the laws and with the intent. And but it was providing programs for kids.
IR: You touched on this a bit, but there were a lot of concerns from lawmakers on the Joint Budget Committee, especially that these grants, some of them at least, were going out to unqualified recipients. And for those who aren’t familiar, these are grants meant to help children with learning loss between the ages of five and 13 years old. And some of these grants went to programs that also served children younger than five, in addition to the older kids.
You touched on this, but do you share that concern?
Little: Well, we always want to be compliant with whether it be fate, federal law, state law or state legislative intent. And we were kind of signaled that given the mix of what it is, it was okay, and now in hindsight they say it’s not. We’ll, we’ll let it play out and see what happens. We we want to be compliant.
IR: Where are you personally on it, though?
Little: Well, I think if we knew this is one time money. And this was basically to help people that had suffered some of the negative consequences of COVID. We wanted to have help, care for children, particularly, you know, parents that were having challenges. We wanted to get that. We want to continue to address the care for children. And I want kids to be as prepared as possible when they get into kindergarten so they’re reading proficiently by the end of the third grade. Those are all goals of mine. And but we can we can do that at age five, and, but sometimes it’s hard if somebody says they’re going to be five next week, to say, well, you can’t go in the program at the opening day this week. But that’s one example.
IR: You know, we’ve seen tension between the attorney general’s office and the Department of Health and Welfare. But how is your relationship with the attorney general, more broadly speaking?
Little: Well, of course, we’re on the land board together and we see each other at other events, and we’ll work our way through it. You know, we, General Wasden was there for a long, long time. And there was obviously a comfort level. General Labrador has a different position and we’ll work our way through it.
IR: I wanted to touch on abortion related issues. Last year, after the overturn of Roe v Wade, you wrote about the importance of making sure that we’re taking care of mothers and families while celebrating the ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court. You wrote that families, churches, charities and local and state government must stand ready to lift them up and help them and their families with access to adoption services, health care, financial and food assistance, counseling and treatment and family planning. We are being called to support women and our fellow community members in extraordinary new ways. And I’m confident Idahoans are ready to meet this responsibility with love and compassion. But this year, lawmakers declined to extend Medicaid coverage for postpartum mothers, and they didn’t extend the maternal Mortality Review panel.
Is the state of Idaho living up to its pro-life reputation?
Little: Well, we’ll continue to work on those. You know, the review panel is something that I think that we ought to continue to do. There were some issues with the way it was being done.
IR: Like what?
Little: Well, that’s, the failure to continue with it was some objections people have. We’ll try and address those objections going forward. But, you know, we we all of those things I said are still true today.
It’s, you know, ebbs and flows. And we’ve got two or three different court rulings that are in play. So until we understand the lay of the land, you know, the Dobbs decision changed a lot of things. And there are other laws that have changed a lot of things. We got to see how that plays out. But I’m still the issue of supporting, supporting mothers and whether it’s foster, adoption, fill in the blank. Those are all very important.
IR: The governor’s office in the past has put together task forces and committees. I’m thinking about faith healing from Governor Otter. Is the maternal Mortality Review panel something that you can address on an executive action level?
Little: Well, I think the first thing we can do is address the concerns of the legislators that had a significant issue with it. And that’s we will we will work on that.
IR: We’re currently waiting for a ruling from Judge Lynn Windmill on whether a doctor can face prosecution for an out-of-state referral for abortion. As we’re having this conversation on Tuesday. Do you think that doctors should face prosecution for out-of-state abortion referrals?
Little: Well, that’s that’s one of those issues that I said are in play. Those are, it’s hard to figure out which direction we’re going until we know what the rules are federally, what the rules are through our our state and federal courts. Our state court says we can do what we’ve, what we’ve done. They ruled that Supreme Court ruled that last, I can’t remember how many months ago. So there is some unknown out there in in Roe v Wade. And the Dobbs decision. And we’re trying to understand all the different ramifications of it. My position is that I’m pro-life, including the life of the mother and we’re, I want to make sure that that’s fulfilled.
IR: So on this specifically, knowing the interplay between the legislature and the courts is still ongoing and will be for some time. Where are you specifically on out-of-state referrals for abortion?
Little: Well, the I think that’s going to be one of the rulings that we’re going to see here real soon. And that’s being argued right now.
IR: Right. But but does does citizen Brad Little have an opinion on it?
Little: Well, I- referrals, I actually looked at a case this morning on a totally unrelated issue where it was referrals out of state. That’s guaranteed by the constitution. That’s a doctor’s right to make a referral. Because you know a good example is north Idaho. Coeur d’Alene, you know, Kootenai Health has grown a lot, but many people in North Idaho utilize the services in Spokane hospitals. To say you couldn’t refer there or somebody in Moscow couldn’t be referred to Pullman. Those are things that are real problematic. Somebody in Fruitland can’t go to Ontario, so I don’t think we want to dwell on that. That’s the benefit of all Idahoans.
IR: Well, while we’re on health care and legislation, in your transmittal letter for the Vulnerable Child Protection Act, which was the piece of legislation that banned gender affirming surgeries and hormone treatments for minors, you said, As policymakers, we should take great caution when we’re asking the government to interfere in these health care decisions. We already knew these gender confirmation surgeries for children weren’t happening in Idaho, and most people agreed that that was that was a fine part of the legislation.
But there were already teens in Idaho who were receiving the hormone therapies, who were concerned about the continuation of their treatment and a sudden stop to that treatment. What would you say to those families?
Little: Well, I, I want to be understanding. If they’re getting that therapy, not for gender transformation, but they’re getting that therapy for a different reason. They can continue to get those. So it’s a narrow group of of of kids that is not very well defined. There’s the number of children that we’re talking about. I again, I think this is going to play out in a larger scale.
There’s about 20 states that have this right now. And I know there’s going to be more probably a year from now after the federal courts have played in we’re going to know more. But that’s, I, to me, the what we do in behavioral health to help these kids when they’re young, either through their faith based groups, through social services and particularly through schools, I think is going to make a big difference. Because we see so many challenges that kids today have that are different than kids even ten years ago, that we really need to concentrate on what we do in the mental health side to help these kids, given the challenges that they have today in modern society.
IR: You said it’s a narrow group of teenagers who are currently receiving this, transgender minors, who are receiving this treatment, but they they are still here and they are in Idaho and they are receiving the treatment. Should should they you believe they should have to stop that treatment?
IR: You campaigned on creating an Idaho where our children will want to stay. But we’ve personally talked to families who have already looked at relocating, who have already put their houses on the market. And I’ve talked to other pregnant women who have lost their OB-GYNs because of concern over prosecution, over the abortion laws. How do you address the concerns within your party without alienating Idahoans who would otherwise want to stay?
Little: Well, of course, health care is, OB-GYN is very expensive program. Right here, about four blocks from where we’re sitting in Emmett right now. The hospital there is having challenges, and they had challenges way before the Dobbs decision. It’s really expensive, particularly for small hospitals that don’t have a big volume. And that’s going to continue to be the play. So we want to be supportive.
And matter of fact, the number one priority for us in our launch and in higher education is more people to help in the health care field. And that’s going to continue to be the case. But in the instances of the two hospitals, though, that has been something that’s happened for a long time in Idaho, because providing those services are very expensive for particularly a small hospital.
IR: But but the current political climate has exacerbated that exodus.
IR: We’ve heard from hospitals that they’re having trouble recruiting new health care workers to the state as well. So how do you overcome that while still acknowledging that this is a priority for the Republican Party?
Little: But it’s always been a problem. You know, we, it’s not lost on anybody that even with all the resources we put in to try and get residents to come in to be whatever kind of a doctor, particularly in in rural Idaho, we had the least amount of doctors per capita. I think we were the second or third to last.
And that’s why we need to continue to put resources in there to recruit doctors and particularly to get our Idaho kids to go to medical school and practice here in Idaho.
IR: I wanted to switch gears now and talk about the firing squad legislation. This this was a bill that you supported that you signed. Can you talk about the reasons that you supported the firing squad?
Little: Well, I signed it. I wasn’t out leading the leading the band on it. Capital punishment. I’m I’m a believer in capital punishment. I’m not excited about capital punishment. Last year, the legislature, we proposed the legislature, basically some help so that activists couldn’t stop the availability of of the right kind of lethal injection pharmaceuticals. I believe we’re still going to get there.
But as a message, we’re going to say we’re going to do capital punishment in Idaho. That is not at all our preferred method, but we’re not going to let a group of activists stop us from having justice here in Idaho.
IR: You said that this sends a message, but it could very well result in state employees having to execute a death row inmate. And this is something you touched on in your transmittal letter. You said you were concerned about minimizing stress on corrections personnel. You know, and there are multiple people, as you know, involved in an execution. I, considering your concern for their mental health, are you willing to be a witness to one of these firing squad executions, should it come to that, and go through what you’re asking state employees to go through?
Little: I don’t believe it will come to that. Let’s just suffice it to say that that’s because I believe I believe that we’re going to find because a lot of states are in the same condition as Idaho that we’re going to find the necessary compounds we need to have as, there’s nothing humane about the death penalty, but have the most dignified and humane execution process we possibly can.
IR: But if it does come to that, are you willing to be a witness to that?
Little: We’ll, we’re a long way to go before we get to there. We got a lot of things to do before that point in time.
IR: You know, back to some of the social issues that came up this session. You vetoed the library bill and that veto stood. But we know that there are already ongoing discussions about what, if anything, the legislature should do and who should be responsible for what kids are checking out, whether it’s the libraries or the parents. Have you been involved in any of those talks about what’s next?
IR: What are you hearing?
Little: Well, you know, before I vetoed the bill, I talked to the sponsors of it. And I and I put that in my transmittal letter that I was worried about the unintended cuts and the intended consequences. We don’t want pornography available to our children in libraries. But the the case they cited was the Boise Library. I said the Boise library’s got lots of resources, lots of paid staff, lots of room for a children’s only.
I know communities where they’re one room and it’s a volunteer in there. Are we are we going to allow people to go in there and make money by saying this book that should be in this section was over in this section because somebody put it in the wrong section and it’s available and in it and it’s $2,500 per instance. Not $25 per, $2,500 per library. Some of these library budgets are only 60 or $70,000 for the whole year. I’m a literacy person. I will continue to be a literacy person. And one of the best ways to help families and children get over their literacy hurdles is to have a good library. And so I don’t I, I am opposed to pornography being available to children, but I also want to support libraries.
And this one kind of tipped the scales the other way. Since then, I’ve had conversations. Some of the people interested is what can we do to address the concerns of the authors of the legislation?
IR: You know, I, I did notice that the House attempted to override the veto, and that override vote got more votes than the initial library bill itself, that there were a handful of Republicans who signed on to the override attempt who didn’t support the original legislation. The legislature also overrode your veto on the property tax bill, of course. The first veto override in 15 years.
Is there a takeaway in there about your ongoing relationship with the legislature?
Little: Well, I obviously I’m not a fan of being overridden on a veto. I veto bills for a specific purpose. But if you take the tax bill and you look at what I proposed in the state of the state, which was $120 million in ongoing transfer of your sales and income tax over to help with your property tax, the number was 116 or 117 plus some more money there.
I vetoed the bill. Sat down with the Senate. Helped them craft a bill that addressed some real fundamental problems about how we paid for roads, how we paid for public defense, the implementation of it. The Senate overwhelmingly passed the bill, sent it over to the House, they rejected it. And they jealously guard their constitutional right to be the source of property tax of tax legislation.
I’ve been around. This is not my first rodeo on on tax legislation. So they shot down the Senate bill, but they had it took three bills and six appropriation bills to take care of the issues that I brought up in the bill I vetoed.
IR: So in a way, the legislature acknowledged your issues.
Little: You said it, not me.
IR: This was a big year for education, of course, including the Idaho Launch scholarship, the program expansion for the Idaho Launch program. But, one of the tweaks to the program that you proposed was telling students that they couldn’t use the $8,000 for four year institutions like University of Idaho, Boise State University, LCSC, ISU. We know that those universities offer training for arguably in-demand careers like teaching and health care.
Are you concerned about the new restrictions that were placed on that program?
Little: I take a different view of it, significantly, because originally it was all going to funnel through Launch. But actually when I started talking about it last fall, I wanted to go through Opportunity scholarships, which is what you’re talking about as our traditional four year institutions. The trailer bill basically said, if you want to go career technical, if you want to be a welder or plumber or an HVAC or a truck driver or a lineman.
You go through Launch if if you are a high school graduating senior and you want to go the traditional master’s degree, the Opportunity Scholarships. So put more money in Opportunity scholarships, and instead of having them all go through Launch, now Opportunity scholarships are one way and Launch is another. But we have always, the history of this state paid for part of the cost of education for journalists, for animal scientists, for political scientists, for lawyers, for doctors.
But we never paid for career technical. We had some programs. Now, those great careers and career technical, we’re going to have more kids staying in Idaho with great careers because the Launch program is going to be available to them.
IR: I know there were a lot of public school advocates who were very happy with a lot of the legislation that came out of this session. Raise in starting teacher pay. The, the making permanent the Empowering Parents Grant program. Passing a bill that opens up open enrollment at all public schools across Idaho. There was also a large investment in school facilities. Tackling it through multiple ways, including the property tax bill.
But at the same time, you know, just last week, a fire caused by faulty electrical wiring burned down a good portion of a Pocatello High school. And we know that there are a number of old schools around Idaho that have a lot of backlogged maintenance. Are you worried that this year’s investments might not go far enough for addressing these problems?
Little: Well, it’ll continue to be an issue. And how we do that, the the part of the property tax bill I don’t think addresses the big issue. But remember, in property tax, the money that we’re putting in this $120 million ongoing plus plus the surplus eliminator or part of it, the money that we put into teacher pay, teacher benefits, certified staff pay, school safety, technology and discretionary money, which is for anything. Plus the money we’re putting into roads, sewer, water and all those other programs are programs that are generally funded by property tax.
As this plays out and highway district commissioners, school board members, county commissioners, city councilman, see that, there should be a lessened need for property taxes. Now, I’m not making any promises. But those are all indirect property tax relief that are out there right now that will open up more avenues for us to do, which is our constitutional obligation, which is for school districts to run to run bonds.
And I understand why the bonds haven’t been passing. Particularly in the residential area. People have had their property taxes double in in some instances, four or five years. Well, you can see why people are we’re having a hard time getting votes. The the acceleration of real estate prices are going down. We’re we’re paying for more and more of the services.
I don’t know. And that is going to be a big policy issue if we want the state to pay for all schools. Because if you’ve got a school district that’s done the right thing and has built their schools, they haven’t grown too fast. They’ve got capacity. They’ve done the maintenance. Well, you take the taxes from them and pay for the district that hasn’t done anything? How many? My staff doesn’t like when I say this. How many basketball gymnasiums are you going to give every school district when they do it? Those are big policy decisions that I’m more than willing to have with my legislative partners. But let’s see how all this money in property tax relief and roads and sewer and water go to alleviating the concern.
I think communities oughta pay for their schools. We can help them as we do now, with bond levy equalization.
IR: But getting rid of that March election date, which was part of the property tax bill that passed, that complicates the conversation for a lot of school districts.
Little: Yeah, we’ve got a election coming up here in just a few weeks here in Emmet. That’s it’s and the the March date is not that important in this year but it’s going to be real important in in a year from now when you have a big and. But I, I believe that we shouldn’t have too many election dates but remember we used to have every date was available for a school bond election.
And the deal that was cut between the legislature and the education proponents was keep November, keep May, keep March and keep August. The school advocates were willing to give up August, but the legislature, to my less than enthusiastic response, did away with March. I think March is critical in the long run to healthy school districts.
IR: You know, speaking of too many election dates, you’ve said that any fixes to the presidential primary are in the legislature’s hands. This is the first year they can call themselves back into session. Have you heard anything about a special session?
Little: I’ve even even before they amended the Constitution, I would have legislators call me and say, this is critical to my constituents or to me. We need a special session. Myself and literally all of my predecessors, we have the least amount of special sessions in Idaho, or at least we have We’ve only had four in the last 20 years that there ought to be an agreement. It ought to be widely viewed by the legislature before they come to town. Otherwise, if you come to town and there’s no agreement, the whole process for the public to engage is done in, you know, one committee room or one leadership room. And so from the transparency side, I think that special sessions where you waive all the rules and and hurry things through is only should be necessary if there’s a real emergency as we have in the past.
Davlin: Have you heard anything about lawmakers calling themselves back?
IR: One last question. What didn’t the legislature address this year that you wish they had?
Little: Well, probably the only thing is, you know, the package that we sent to them, I said we got 95% of what we wanted done. 5% was I wanted to do some more paying down some more debt that we didn’t get done. But but we’ve done a great job of our rainy day funds, surpluses in our years. I’m a little concerned about the spending level in the out years of some of the programs we have, because we’ve done a great job of getting getting our great bond rating. We just issued $400 million worth of bonds for road projects, and in this market to get that done at 3.8% was was absolutely incredible.
In part two of our two-part interview, Gov. Little shared his thoughts on education initiatives the legislature passed this year, the state’s economic prospects, and whether he plans to run for a third term as governor.
TRANSCRIPT: On the Ranch with Gov. Brad Little
Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports: You started your second term as governor and the first one, The first term was marked in large part by COVID. What do you envision for your second term?
Gov. Brad Little: Not COVID!
IR: Not COVID. I think all of us could agree with that.
Little: Anything but COVID. No, I mean, we’re going to implement. You know, the, we propose. The legislature passes laws and appropriates money, and then we have to execute. And, you know, particularly our investments in education, whether it’s what we did before in literacy or what we’re doing now in competitive teacher pay and Launch in particular. You know, Launch is literally, you know, there’s some sideboards on it, but the Workforce Development Council is going to have to be attuned to students and employers about what they want.
We we believe it won’t be fully subscribed because, you know, if you need more nurses or you need more welders or you need more. It’ll take us a little while for either our community colleges or private institutions to build capacity. But, you know, the bait is there. The money’s there. And, you know, a lot of kids who wouldn’t have had a chance to go on are now literally going to be able to walk out of high school, sign up for a program, and in two years they’ll be available.
Whether it’s down at the lab at Idaho Falls, where they need 500 new people a year, whether it’s construction jobs here in the Treasure Valley, whether it’s, you know, advanced manufacturing jobs here or, you know, Lewiston is a good example. There’s lots of great jobs there. But they they’ve got to be good welders. They got to work for the Schweitzer Engineering.
So, you know, it’ll be a game changer. I believe so.
IR: How involved do you see yourself being with those workforce count Workforce Development Council recommendations on what’s an in-demand career?
Little: Well, they the workforce development Council and the legislation give they give gave them autonomy to decide. And of course, they’re they’re very diverse group of businesses from all over the state, uh, educators. They just have to listen to what kids and what the employers want. And and then it’s it says in demand. So we don’t want to be spending money on kids that aren’t going to have a job.
But if the job market stays anything like it is right now, that is not going to be an issue. So we’re going to, we’ll get them employed real fast. And I was at a national governor’s conference on a kind of a workforce development, I was moderating the panel. And one of the U.S. Department of Agriculture economists said from a return on investment–
Buster wants to go back to the barn.
IR: Sorry, Buster.
Little: What we’re doing is going to be the highest return for what the state puts into it. And of course, the kids will have to put some resources into it. (to Buster) Quit.
I told you, he wants to go back to the barn.
IR: He’s blaming me for it too, he’s giving me the eye.
Little: And more importantly, businesses are going to have to say, if you want welders, they’re going to have to provide the welding equipment. Health care is a good example. These hospitals, they’re going to need nurses. But they’re going to have to have their senior nurses there training other nurses to be nurses. So the business is going to have skin in the game.
These kids are going to have skin in the game. But we got a real robust community college system that I think will be very attuned to those. Because they want those kids placed and going to work right away.
IR: Why did you decide to run for a second term?
Little: Why did I decide to run for Senator?
IR: No, why you decide to run for a second term as governor?
Little: Oh, we had we had lots to do. There was there was no question about it. I mean, as you pointed out, we were pretty distracted during the first term with COVID. And, you know, kids not in schools, businesses being challenged, health care being challenged. Now we can implement. I mean, we recovered jobs faster than any state. Idaho was the number one job producer after COVID, and it’s going to continue that way.
So now what I got to have is skilled up workforce, and Launch and our higher education systems will get that done.
IR: You got a lot done that was on your priority list in this first year of your second term. You’ve got three more legislative sessions left until 2026. What’s going to be on your priority list?
Little: Well, you know, you’ve got to be responsive to what the economy does, what the job market does. You know, I’m hopeful that Launch gets fully subscribed. And then we’ll know more about, I can’t imagine the construction industry is going to stay as robust as it is, but it could. And then, you know, if the construction industry slows down, how do we retrain electricians and plumbers and HVAC to do other jobs?
That’s going to be part of it. But I’m you know, there’s great potential at the lab. Obviously, the new Micron facility is going to, they’re going to– Oh, you don’t think so? You think I was wrong?
IR: Buster the economist.
Little: But, uh no, there’s there’s lots going on, you know, And the other thing I want to see is the results of all our investments in literacy. I’m serious when I say I want all kids reading proficiently at the end of the third grade. And what do I have to do to inspire school districts to get that done is going to be important.
IR: Third grade literacy was top of the priority list for Governor Otter, has been top of the priority list for you. Between COVID-19 and other challenges, we haven’t seen much movement on those percentage rates.
Little: Well, if you look down into the data, the one thing we do know is what’s working and what’s not working. And some districts are making you know, some some districts have got 80%, 90% proficient by the third grade. We need to take what’s working in those districts and transfer it to other districts. And I do think behavioral health and mental health is going to be an issue because, you know, these kids have challenges.
We literally this morning had a presentation by one of our interns about, you know, the challenges of social media on these kids and how we handle that, how we help them cope. But I think a little bit of counseling early yields great results. You let these kids problems get kind of ahead of them. Then, you know, you got substance abuse, you got all these other challenges.
And people say, well, we didn’t have all those counselors when I was in school. Life is a lot more complicated now than it was when I was in school.
IR: It’s more complicated now than it was even 15 years ago.
Little: Yeah, or ten years ago.
IR: Have you given much thought to running for a third term?
Little: No. I’ve got plenty of runway to get things done in the next three years. And, you know, I’ve got, like I said, my my staff, my administrators, you know, we continue to work on. In fact, this morning we had a meeting on, uh, you know, kind of getting the right signals to our administrators in our departments that we’re going to continue to do that, kind of sharpen the saw to perfect what we’re doing in in every agency.
And I’m pleased. With what’s going on it’s always a challenge, but if it was easy, everybody would be doing it.
IR: Have you ruled out running for a third term?
IR: You haven’t ruled it out?
IR: What are the factors?
Little: Well, there’s lots of them. There’s lots of ’em. I uh, but that’s I mean, literally the one thing we are doing is we started doing it and we and I had another conversation about that today, is doing a five year budget to where whatever we do today doesn’t put us in an economic hole where we either have to cut services or raise taxes.
So that’s actually been one of my highest priorities, is that we we scale our spending with revenue growth, plus probably we’ll probably continue to do property tax relief and we might even we’ll probably even do some more income tax. Idaho is a tough state because we’ve got all these states around us that don’t have income taxes and so we you know, we want to be competitive, but it doesn’t seem to be stopping people from moving to Idaho.
IR: I wanted to ask about all of the growth that we’ve seen and the economic outlook and everything together. You know, the legislature only has so much control. You only have so much control. Overall, are you happy with the trajectory that the state is taking, not just economically but culturally as well?
Little: Well, it’s I mean, it’s changing. We have so many people moving here. It’s it’s going to continue to be a challenge. You know, we made a great investment in our parks this year, the biggest ever by far. But one of the things when I go and talk to rural Idaho is everybody leaves Boise and goes to Boise County or Owyhee County.
What do I do about emergency services? You know, we had capital for a day and Bruneau, and one of the biggest hot issues was how do how do we pay for emergency services for all those city folk that come out and get in trouble recreating on the ground in our county? And I think we’re going to have we we actually need to there’s a study going on now about how do we pay for emergency services in rural Idaho.
And we need to be cognizant that we all don’t just say you guys bear the cost of the great outdoors in Idaho, and we will continue to be cognizant of that.
IR: Either that or you go and recreate, you’re on your own, that’s a choice you make.
Little: Yeah, well, you know, I think what we talked about is, is emergency services a vital service, and do we need to provide it? And who pays for it?
Do the the taxpayers in Owyhee and Boise County have to pay for the emergency services for everybody from Boise and Nampa? Or does the state share part of that cost?
IR: There’s been a lot of concern lately about extremist rhetoric you know, between last summer and the Patriot Front stopping by Coeur d’Alene Pride, people making not so veiled threats against law enforcement pretty close to your house who are trying to serve civil papers and warrants. Do you think the state is doing enough to push back against that extremism?
Little: Well, A, we want everybody to feel safe in Idaho, but a lot of the issue to me, are people that come here and they always talk about we don’t want to be Seattle or Portland or San Francisco. Well, we’re not any of those. And I understand people being concerned about it, but we need to let let them see what the difference is, it’s it’s not that the unsafe streets in those communities are in any way a problem in Idaho. And public safety is something that, again, we’re focusing on here, so.
(to Buster) Are you happy now that you’re back at the barn? He doesn’t want to go any further.
IR: He’s good.
Little: There we go.
IR: You know, just just one more question from me. You know, when you’re you’ve still got three years left in your second term. But we’ve talked a lot this year about Governor Batt’s legacy. Have you thought at all about what you want your legacy to be?
Little: All kids reading proficiently at the end of the third grade would be a great start. You know, and I think that this, and this is akin to what Governor Batt, you know, that we’re fiscally responsible, that we don’t overtax, we don’t overregulate. We did an incredible amount of work in the first term on regulation. Now we’re continuing to modify that and make it better.
But I want Idaho to be a place in particular that an Idaho kid can get educated, whether it’s career technical or traditional bachelor degree, and start a business and provide for their family. That, and stay right here in Idaho. Play out in the great outdoors of Idaho, and respectfully. So.
IR: Alright, anything else you wanted to add?
Little: I think that’s it.
IR: While surrounded by cameras? No?
Little: No, I think that’s where I will de-mic, and depart.
IR: Perfect. Yeah.
Little: All right.
IR: Hey, thank you.