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Meeting the goal of a balanced budget

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George Eskridge, from A Seat in the House, says 2011 was "a challenging and controversial session."

The first regular session of the sixty-first Idaho Legislature “sine died” (ended) on April 7 in the late afternoon after dealing with difficult issues on Medicaid cuts, education reform and Idaho election laws, to name just a few.

This year’s session was somewhat of a repeat of the previous two years’ sessions in that for the third straight year we were facing a General Fund budget gap. At the beginning of this session we were looking at a $340 million General Fund budget gap for fiscal year 2012 that begins July 1 of this year. This deficit assumed that current levels of service would be maintained and that growth in Medicaid, prison populations and public schools would be funded.

However, the situation did improve in the beginning days of the session; based upon new revenue estimates shortly after the beginning of the session and looking at a projected growth of 3 percent in revenue over the upcoming fiscal year we were able to reduce the budget gap to about 193 million dollars. We reduced this deficit and balanced the budget in part by some far-reaching changes to Medicaid and public schools, the two largest general fund appropriations that account for about 65 percent of the general fund appropriations. In addition, we reduced expenditures in other state agencies. In the end we balanced the budget by reducing spending by about 101 million dollars and using other revenue reserves and implementing legislative initiatives to cover the remaining 92 million dollars.

Major reductions included reducing some Medicaid spending by about $34.5 million, public schools by 13.3 million, higher education by $8.9 million and other agencies by $9.9 million.

These reductions are somewhat misleading however in that even though we reduced some Medicaid expenditures by $34.5 million, we actually increased the Health and Welfare budget by about 29.5 percent from the General Fund and an overall 11.8 percent from all funding sources. This large increase in Health and Welfare funding was mostly the need to provide funding for the federal matching requirements associated with receiving federal dollars.

In the case of public schools, even though we did reduce overall funding by about 1.3 percent, we increased the General Fund appropriation by about 8/10 of a percent. In addition Idaho accepted nearly $300 million of federal stimulus dollars for education and in turn agreed that funding for education this fiscal year would not be below that of prior years. Because our actual FY2011 revenues appear to exceed our FY2011 estimate it appears that we will have to direct another $6.5 million to public schools at the end of this fiscal year to meet our federal requirement. This payment will be made to public schools at the end of June and will help offset reductions in the FY2012 appropriation.

In other appropriation measures we authorized an Idaho Department of Transportation authorization of about 564 million dollars. Funding for transportation is not provided by general fund dollars; instead funding depends upon gasoline tax and Federal Highway Administration funds. Even though this level of funding will not support much in the way of new road projects, it will help keep our existing state roads maintained and supports the efforts of the ITD board and director in their reorganization of the department to reduce the department bureaucracy resulting in more funding available for road maintenance. There still remains a need to increase funding for the department in future legislative sessions because there is simply not enough funding available through current revenue streams to maintain our state transportation system adequately.

In addition to the regular transportation appropriation we were also successful in getting another GARVEE bond authorization for the department in the amount of 162 million dollars that has a direct benefit to North Idaho. About half of this bonding authorization will fund an additional segment of the Garwood to Sagle project that will include construction of a four-lane highway from the Garwood area to Granite Hill. It will also include three new interchanges, one in the Chilco area, one at Silverwood and one at Athol. Construction on this segment will begin this spring.

Obviously there were other legislative actions that resulted in new legislation impacting Idaho citizens significantly. Education reform, improvement in the formation of Urban Renewal Districts, tax incentives for job creation and energy development are but a few of the more significant legislative actions. I have run out of space to discuss these in this issue of the River Journal but will provide information on these and other legislative actions in future River Journal issues.

I end by stating again that this was a challenging and oftentimes a controversial legislative session; however in the end we accomplished positive results on important issues and given the complexity of many of these issues served the citizens of Idaho well. 

Thanks for reading! As always please contact me with issues of concern to you. Because the session has ended you may reach me at my home address at P.O. Box 112, Dover, 83825 and by phone at (208) 265-0123.

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:

Idaho Legislature, transportation, Hwy 95, Health and Welfare, medicaid, budget gap, budget shortfalls, deficit, public schools, GARVEE funding, Garwood to Granite Hill

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