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A Seat in the House

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A Seat in the House

"Cut" is the word in Idaho budgeting

The date is March 1 and as I am writing this article the second regular session of the 60th Idaho legislature is on day 50, hopefully about half-way through the session.

As I indicated before this has been, and continues to be, a difficult session because of the lack of revenues to support our state programs, necessitating a reduction in what we fund. We have had to adjust the current fiscal year budget (FY 2010) that we set last session by about 7.5 percent to balance spending with revenues.

For those agencies already cut by 7.5 percent or more by the Governor before the legislature went into session, we are leaving them at their current spending level. For almost all of those agencies not already cut at the 7.5 percent reductions we are requiring cuts in their spending up to that level.

Public schools, however, are being held harmless from these spending cuts for this fiscal year by utilizing the monetary reserves available to avoid cuts to their budgets in the middle of the contract year.

These cuts in spending are being carried forward into next fiscal year (FY 2011) beginning July 1. This means that on average we will be looking at about 7.5 to 8 percent reductions for almost all agencies from their original 2010 budget. In summary, the FY 2011 appropriations will be at about the same level as at the ending of FY 2010.

As mentioned above public schools have been held relatively harmless from 2009 and 2010 reductions in their General Funds appropriation because we have been able to offset their reductions by the use of reserve funds set aside in the Public Education Stabilization Fund. Public schools will not be immune to actual cuts this upcoming fiscal year (FY 2011) because these reserves have been almost fully depleted.

As a result, the preliminary appropriation that is being considered as I write this article proposes a cut of about 8.5 percent for schools. This means that teachers may very well be looking at pay cuts. The current proposal calls for a 4.1 percent reduction in state support for instructional and classified salaries, a 6.5 percent reduction in administrators’ pay and removes about 10 million dollars that would otherwise be available to teachers for experience- and education-based salary increases.

In order to assist school districts in managing the reduction in state support and to minimize the impact on the classroom the legislature will be providing intent language proving direction on how to implement the education appropriation.

In yet another unprecedented move the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee has made the intent language that will direct school districts on how they can and cannot spend the money available to all legislators to allow time for them to review the intent language prior to JFAC approving the language in the school appropriations bill. Hopefully by allowing this extra opportunity for legislators to review the proposed appropriation for public schools and the intent language it will help in achieving legislative support for the appropriation and prevent delays in finishing the budget setting process and adjournment of the legislative session. (Hopefully before April 1!)

There has been a real effort by leadership to minimize conflict between the House and Senate during this difficult session, however avoiding disagreement between the two bodies is not easily accomplished. The most recent example was the legislation opposing retired members of the state Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho receiving a cost of living increase in their retirement pay. Even though the cost of living index has decreased and the PERSI fund has underperformed over the last 10 years the PERSI Board of Directors elected to provide the retirees with a one percent increase.

Because of a concern that maintaining a sound retirement fund may require a general fund appropriation increase as soon as next year and the opinion of many legislators that it is unfair to give retirees a raise while active state employees are taking pay cuts or furloughs, Senate and House leadership decided that the increase should be stopped.

Legislation was introduced in the House to stop the increase and a majority of House members voted in support of the legislation to stop the increase. The Senate, however, in opposition to their leadership’s agreement with the House on stopping the increase, refused to hear the legislation in Committee and the raise has been granted. Regardless of whether the House or the Senate was wrong, the failure to follow through with the agreement made by leadership has created some tension between the two bodies that hopefully will be overcome as we proceed through this difficult session and reach agreement on making the decisions needed to balance the state budget as required by our Constitution.

Aside from budget issues there are other significant legislative proposals under consideration this session, including three different immigration control measures, a photo ID requirement to vote, a vendor fee for selling invasive species stickers, changes in local improvement district bonding requirements and three constitutional amendments changing voting requirements for hospitals, airports and electric municipals to enter into long-term contracts, purchases and construction of facility improvements.

Assuming the legislature will adjourn by April 1, I will provide a summary of these and other significant legislative actions in my April article. In the meantime please feel free to contact me on issues of importance to you. My mailing address in Boise is: State Capitol Building, P.O. Box 83720, Boise, Idaho at zip code 83720-0038; at idaholeginfo(at)lso.idaho.gov; or by phone at 1-800-626-0471

Thanks for reading! George


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Rep. George Eskridge Rep. George Eskridge the Republican Representative for District 1 in Idaho’s House, George Eskridge can be reached at 208-265-0123 or write PO Box 112, Dover, ID 83825

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