“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.