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A Seat in the House

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Another year of difficult funding choices

The 2011 legislature convened on January 10 and the major issue of this session will be balancing the state budget with limited revenues.

The revenue situation was addressed by Idaho Governor Otter in his State of the State address before the legislature on January 10. The Governor presented a conservative budget recommendation that was based on an assumed 3 percent growth rate for the upcoming 2011 fiscal year that begins July 1 of this year. In contrast, the Governor’s Division of Financial Management is projecting a 6.9 percent increase in revenues over the next year.

The majority of legislators are more supportive of the Governor’s estimate, believing that the economy is not showing the kind of improvement needed to support higher revenue estimates. The legislature will ultimately decide the final number to use for budgeting but that legislative decision will not be made until the early days of February, giving us as few more weeks of actual revenue receipts before deciding on a final number. 

We used federal stimulus dollars and most of our monetary reserves in balancing our budget this year so the Governor was pretty much limited to forecasted revenues in preparing his budget recommendation. Given this the Governor had to resort to widespread budget cuts that average about two and a half percent across agencies. One exception is Health and Welfare that will experience about a four percent cut if the Governor’s recommendation holds. 

Conversely K-12 public education will see a slight increase, assuming some major reform actions recommended by the Superintendent of Schools are approved by the legislature. There will also be delays in implementations of some programs, including an increase in the grocery tax credit that was scheduled for this year. Raises for state employees and increased state contributions to the state’s retirement fund are also not recommended in the Governor’s proposed budget.

The Governor also dismissed a tax increase stating in his address that “I haven’t heard one Idahoan say they want their taxes raised!” 

A second issue getting almost as much attention (and maybe even more) is a plan for K-12 public education reform presented to the legislature by State School Superintendent Tom Luna. 

Superintendent Luna has stated that given the current financial situation there are only three options to provide funding for our public education system. These are: 1) cut funding even more than we have the last two years, 2) raise taxes, or 3) change (reform) the system to get the maximum benefit for the taxpayer’s investment.

Superintendent Luna’s proposal includes the following recommendations: 

Provide laptop computers for every high school student and require ninth-graders to take two online courses a year.

The state pay for students to take college credits in their senior year if they meet all graduation requirements by their junior year.

Teacher salary would be based on performance, instead of just education and seniority.

Tenure would be eliminated for new teachers, but teachers would be able to receive bonuses if they volunteered for leadership positions or elected to take hard-to-fill positions (i.e. math and science teaching positions)

The first-year starting salary for teachers would be raised to $30,000.

Collective bargaining agreements would be of shorter time periods and salary negotiations between teachers and the districts would be held in open public meetings.

The average number of students per classroom would be increased from 18.2 to 19.8 over the next five years to help fund the other portions of the program.

Districts that are losing students would lose the 99 percent guarantee of funding based on the previous year’s student count.

These are the major provisions of the Superintendent’s proposal and, as would be expected, they are being met with significant opposition by the Idaho Education Association and others concerned with this significant change in the system. However, there is also significant support from those who want to see major change in the current system, including teachers, school board members and parents. 

Whether one agrees with the proposal or not it is a proposal by the Superintendent to attempt to “achieve more with less.” It is a proposal for a state education plan that is intended to “shift the focus from how much we are spending to how much our children are learning. By reorganizing the way that existing funds are spent, money will be strategically targeted to areas where it can be most productively used.”

The proposal will be before the Senate and House Education committees and if passed in its entirety or with amendments, will be before the legislature over the next few months for consideration. The Joint Finance and Appropriation Committee will also be addressing the funding requirements for the final education appropriation request and will forward its funding recommendations to the full legislature.

Obviously there are other significant legislative proposals being considered by members of the legislature, including legislation nullifying the national health care legislation, texting while driving, implementing a sales tax on Internet sales, increased taxes on cigarettes and other legislative actions.

I will keep you informed on the progress of these issues and others as we continue through the legislative session.

As always, please contact me with issues of concern. My mailing address at Boise is: P.O. Box 83720, Boise, Idaho, 83720-0038, my phone number is 1-800-626-0471 and you can reach me by e mail at idleginfo(at)lso.idaho.gov.

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

Tagged as:

funding, Idaho Legislature, shortfall, K-12 education, Health and Welfare, Tom Luna

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