The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee just finished a marathon meeting in which it resolved virtually every remaining funding issue of the legislative session, from a multimillion-dollar water settlement to raises for state employees. Starting with a 7:30 a.m. worksession, the 20-member committee worked straight through to 11:10 a.m. – with a fuming Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis standing in the doorway as the joint panel worked more than an hour past the time the Senate was supposed to convene, leaving the whole Senate waiting.
“A very visionary group we have here this morning – and brave, indeed,” said Co-Chairwoman Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, as the panel voted unanimously in favor of the giant water funding bill, which funds a series of North Idaho projects as well as addressing a southern Idaho water crisis.
Here are some highlights of the decisions:
RAISES: State employees won’t get any raises at all next year unless the year-end budget balance for the state is at least $22.3 million more than current projections show will be there. Then, if that money does show up, they’d get just a one-time bonus averaging 1 percent, distributed by merit. Public school employees would get a similar deal – up to a 1 percent bonus if that extra money shows up – but no public school employee who makes more than $68,625 a year would be eligible for any of it. Democrats objected to the plans, and they passed on party-line votes.
WATER: Idaho would spend $28.5 million during the current budget year - $21.3 million from the general fund and $7.2 million from unexpected liquor funds due to increased sales – to pay for the first phase of a southern Idaho water deal, including buying out water rights at Bell Rapids. Much of that would be repaid with 3 percent interest by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Then, the state would spend $4.45 million in state general funds and $1.2 million in other funds next year for a statewide water funding package that includes programs at the Idaho Department of Water Resources, the Soil Conservation Commission, the DEQ, and more, and gives one-time funding to four North Idaho water projects – the Rathdrum Prairie Collaborative Study, Rathdrum aquifer spring and well monitoring, Palouse Basin Aquifer projects, and a Rathdrum Prairie effluent study.
FISH & GAME FEES: The panel approved spending authority to allow Fish & Game to increase fees by about 10 percent, as called for under a bill now pending in the Senate, but objected to some of the spending plans, including $100,000 for public opinion surveys.
Other decisions covered funding for various bills that are working their way through the Legislature or have already passed, from contractor licensing – which will increase the Bureau of Occupational Licenses workload by 70 percent – to drug lab cleanups.
Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, gave Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, the finance vice-chairwoman, full credit for getting the North Idaho projects included in the statewide water bills. “Those projects would not be in there save for her – she has worked very diligently to make sure that North Idaho interests were equally represented as South Idaho,” Cameron said.