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A Seat in the House

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Sine die for 2010

The second regular session of the sixtieth legislature adjourned Sine Die on March 29, 2010, seventy-eight days from the time it convened in the newly restored and expanded capitol building after a 30-month absence from the facility. The $122.5 million capitol building project funded with cigarette taxes was finished on time and within budget.

This was at the same time that the legislature found itself involved in a record-setting economic downturn that has been noted as one that has not been confronted by the Idaho legislature in the last 75 years. Fiscal year 2009  revenues came in at about 15 percent less than fiscal year 2008; this year (FY’10) is expected to be at least 7.5 percent under FY’09 when the fiscal year ends June 30. We have projected an almost flat increase in revenues for fiscal year 2011. This overall decrease of about 23 percent over the last two years has made it an extremely difficult legislative session with the necessity of implementing difficult budget cuts and using cash reserves to minimize the budget cuts as much as possible.

The revenue situation was so serious that for the first time in many years (if any) the General Fund appropriation for public schools was reduced by about 7.5 percent for FY ’10 and carried through FY 2011. We were able to keep schools whole for this year by the use of reserve funds; however since this same 7.5 percent reduction is being carried forward into FY 2011 the total decrease in appropriations is about 14.4 percent when comparing FY’09 to FY 2011. However, adding in other funding sources, including federal funding, the decrease in school funding is only about 6.7 percent.

The Health and Human Services program is the second largest appropriation next to the public schools appropriation. There are five different services contained within this category, including the Department of Health and Welfare. Given the reduction in FY’10 that is being carried forward into FY 2011, the two-year general fund reduction in the Health and Human Services appropriation is about 25 percent. However, because we were able to use federal funds to minimize the impact on many of these programs, there is actually going to be a small increase in total funding for Health and Human Services of about 5.3 percent

Public Safety is the third largest appropriation and includes the Department of Corrections (prison system) and the Idaho State Police. The overall two-year decrease in this department for FY 2011 is about 18.5 percent. But again, because of other sources of funding, the actual two-year decrease is lower at about 9.8 percent; however the Department of Corrections decrease itself is about 14.2 percent over the two-year period. Because the prison population continues to increase, funding is becoming a serious concern and the legislature and Department of Corrections is looking hard at trying to find ways to reduce the population through drug courts and other means of keeping citizens from being imprisoned.

To summarize the budget experience, these three budget categories represent the bulk of general fund appropriations, but overall general fund appropriations were reduced by an average of a 7.5 percent decrease for FY’10 that is also being carried forward into FY 2011.

Given the overall emphasis on the budget and the problems in maintaining viable government services in this economic environment, this legislative session was still productive in other ways.  In addition to setting a fiscally responsible budget, the legislature intervened in the national health care policy debate, established a higher education stabilization funding mechanism, provided additional election and voting reforms and authorized several new constitutional amendments and other actions resulting in a productive session.

I will provide more information on specific legislative actions in upcoming issues of the River Journal; I appreciate your interest in the activities of the Idaho legislature and welcome your input on issues of importance to you.

Now that the session is over I am back home in Dover and you can contact me with issues of importance to you at my home phone at (208) 265-0123 or by mail at P.O. Box 112, Dover, 83825.

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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