Legislators began setting state agency budgets for next year today, and at least initially, they stuck fairly close to Gov. Butch Otter’s bare-bones budget recommendations. For the state Department of Environmental Quality, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee set a budget that increases the agency’s state funding by 6.8 percent, slightly above Otter’s recommendation of 5.9 percent. But much of the difference came from an item lawmakers are including in every state agency budget, to restore health care premium funding to its normal level after surpluses last year allowed the state to give workers a one-month “premium holiday.”
Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, made a last-minute addition to the DEQ budget - she added back in $60,000 on a one-time basis to increase mercury monitoring around the state. Lawmakers agreed with the governor on funding a new underground storage tank spill prevention program, but not providing any new staffers. DEQ Director Toni Hardesty said the department will shift workers from other programs to run the new effort. “We’re prepared to do that,” she said.
The DEQ budget also includes $1.5 million for a new pilot program lawmakers approved last year to offer private owners incentives to clean up their own contaminated properties. Also approved today were budgets for the PUC and the Office of Species Conservation, which will continue largely as-is; and the state Department of Agriculture, which came through with Otter’s anti-noxious weed initiative intact and even slightly expanded.