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Gov. Butch Otter promises to restore Idaho education funding to pre-recession levels

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BOISE, Idaho — Laying out priorities for the upcoming legislative session, Gov. Butch Otter says he's going to ask Idaho lawmakers to restore public school funding to pre-recessional levels.

But he and other state leaders say there isn't a clear plan for other key issues, including transportation and the troubled broadband Internet system.

Along with the governor, House Speaker Scott Bedke, President Pro Tem Brent Hill, Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett and House Minority Leader John Rusche spoke to reporters during The Associated Press' Legislative Preview on Thursday morning.

"You can expect us to make an effort to put money into savings, you can expect us to return money that we don't need," Otter said. "But I can tell you that my budget is going to reflect bringing education pretty close if not above the 2009, what the 2009 budget was."

A return to 2009 levels would require roughly a $44 million increase, or a 3.2 percent jump from this year's education budget. Idaho lawmakers have been attempting to restore education funding over the past few years after they slashed money for public schools during the economic downturn.

PHOTO: From left, Idaho Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, and House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston talk with reporters at the State Capitol about the upcoming 2015 legislative session at the State Capitol building on Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015 in Boise, Idaho. The new session begins Monday, Jan. 12. (AP Photo/Otto Kitsinger)
From left, Idaho Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, and House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston talk with reporters at the State Capitol about the upcoming 2015 legislative session at the State Capitol building on Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015 in Boise, Idaho. The new session begins Monday, Jan. 12. (AP Photo/Otto Kitsinger)

Otter declined to reveal specifics about his proposed budget outline for the upcoming fiscal year. Instead, he says that information will be revealed during his State of the State address to lawmakers Monday, which kicks off the 2015 Idaho Legislature.

During Thursday's preview, legislative leaders all agreed Idaho's roads and bridges needed improvement, but no one pinpointed a specific plan that would raise enough money to address the issue while also passing through the Republican-controlled Legislature that's hesitant to increase taxes.

"I think we will take steps this year," Bedke said, answering questions about the House's plans to address transportation issues in Idaho, primarily how to fund maintenance and new infrastructure. "There is this growing acknowledgment that we've got to do something, and from all quarters."

Legislative leaders also came out in support of improving the broadband network.

Earlier this year, a district court ruled that the $60 million contract that provides broadband access to public school was illegal. Lawmakers and educational officials are now scrambling to find a solution that won't disrupt the service, but the future of the project is still unknown.

Otter added that he expects the re-bidding of the broadband contract to be more transparent because state officials are also pushing to strengthen oversight on the state's contract valued $5 million or more.

"We would like to have those potential courtroom question answered long prior to awarding the contract," Otter said.

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PHOTO: Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter speaks to reporters about the upcoming 2015 legislative session at the State Capitol building on Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015 in Boise, Idaho. The new session begins Monday, Jan. 12. (AP Photo/Otto Kitsinger)
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