State Politics

Two-thirds of new spending in Gov. Otter’s proposed budget would go to education

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter outlines his proposals for 2017 to a joint session of the Idaho Legislature at the state Capitol Monday.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter outlines his proposals for 2017 to a joint session of the Idaho Legislature at the state Capitol Monday. AP

Gov. Butch Otter’s $3.465 billion proposed general fund budget for next year represents an overall increase of 5.9 percent, or $192 million, with two-thirds of the new spending related to education.

Asked about the overall increase, Otter said Monday that the state is still playing catch-up following cuts made during recessionary years.

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The spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1 projects revenues will top $3.5 billion, a growth estimate of 4.6 percent on top of this year’s estimated growth of 5.4 percent.

The general fund is that portion of state spending supported by revenues from income, sales and product taxes. The total projected state budget for next year is $8.67 billion, including more than $3 billion in federal assistance and $2 billion in revenue from dedicated funds and other sources.

Spending since 2014 has grown by an average of 4.9 percent annually. The current year was a 6.5 percent spending increase.

Of course, the Legislature makes the final decisions over the next two to three months on the spending that Gov. Otter proposes. Some takeaways on the proposed increases:

Education: The schools portion, which represents nearly two-thirds of all general fund spending, would go up $125 million, or 6.1 percent under the governor’s proposal. That includes $58 million for the third year of teacher pay raises. Other big-ticket items are an additional $10 million investment in classroom technology, $6 million for teacher professional development $5 million more to cover expanded college and career counseling for students.

Health and Welfare: Within the $43.5 million, 6.2 percent departmental increase are outlays of $11.2 million to cover mental health treatments for 7,400 moderate to high risk probationers and parolees to reduce recidivism; $2 million for home health care for adults with severe mental illness; and $2.7 million for this year’s costs of modernizing the state’s child support enforcement system that supports 400,000 parents and children and collects and distributes $215 million in payments annually. The modernization is paid with two-thirds federal dollars.

Public Safety: More than half of the $13.4 million, 4.1 percent departmental increase, is for the judicial branch, and within that $7.4 million increase is $3.7 million in continued funding for the iCourt online court records project. The Department of Corrections has $2.25 million budgeted for 24 new senior parole and probation officers.

Natural Resources: The biggest chunk of the $2 million, 4.5 percent increase is $1.3 million for the Department of Environmental Quality’s state-run water pollution regulation program.

Economic Development: More than half of the $1.8 million, 5.5 percent increase is $1.1 million for the expansion and renovation of the Idaho State Historical Museum.

General government: The STEM Action Center is paid out out of the governor’s office. An additional $2.5 million for the center’s computer science initiative and other operating expenses represents the largest component of the proposed $5.9 million, 5.3 percent increase. Another $660,000 budgeted in the Secretary of State’s Office would upgrade elections software.

Bill Dentzer: 208-377-6438, @dentzernews

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