Idaho budgeters finish work

Spending for next year is up 5.2% over last, and is $38 million over Otter’s recommendation.

LEWISTON TRIBUNEMarch 11, 2014 

Excluding a handful of “trailer” bills, which will be taken up this week, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee has approved $2.92 billion in general fund expenditures for next year.

That’s up $143 million or 5.2 percent from the current year. Gov. Butch Otter recommended $2.89 billion in spending, a 3.8 percent increase.

Otter’s budget didn’t include any funding for employee raises, nor did it include the leadership bonuses for public school teachers his Task Force on Improving Education had recommended. Adding those cost more than $30 million.

“The budget is certainly higher than I think any of us would have liked, but we were handed some things we had to deal with,” said JFAC Co-chair Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert.

The last agency budgets to be set were the Department of Health and Welfare’s Divisions of Medicaid and Welfare. Together, they accounted for more than $2 billion in total expenditures.

The budget committee approved a $2.03 billion total budget for the division in fiscal 2015. That includes $1.54 billion in federal and dedicated funds, as well as $492 million in state taxpayer support — a $14.9 million, 3.1 percent increase over the current year.

JFAC has several issues left to address:

- The Idaho Education Network provides high-speed broadband and video-conferencing services to every school district in the state.

The state pays 25 percent of IEN’s annual costs. The remainder historically came from the federal e-rate program.

The Department of Administration submitted a surprise request in January for $14.5 million to cover the 2014-15 e-rate payments, to keep the network up and running.

The budget committee appropriated $6.6 million for the 2014 payments, but hasn’t yet agreed to cover the 2015 cost.

- One of the main policy bills that’s still working its way through the Legislature is a proposal to invest $33 million in pardon and parole officers and community treatment programs, in an effort to reduce prison recidivism. The initial cost of the program would be $2 million in 2015. The bill has passed the Senate; if it passes the House the budget committee will appropriate the money.

- State revenue collections had their worst performance in nearly four years in January, coming in almost $26 million behind projections. But in February, they came in $27.5 million ahead of expectations.

If the numbers hold up for the remainder of the fiscal year, it leaves an ending balance of $45.4 million. The governor is recommending that $15 million of that go into the Permanent Building Fund and the rest into various savings accounts.

bspence@lmtribune.com

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