Preliminary figures show Idaho’s headed for a budget surplus this year of $75 million, thanks mainly to stronger than expected individual income taxes in April. If that’s a permanent thing, the state could be looking at a $100 million budget surplus in the budget that lawmakers already have set for the coming fiscal year, which starts July 1. “We’re playing in the ballpark of $100 million … for 2008,” legislative budget director Cathy Holland-Smith told the Legislative Council this morning.
That caused some of the council’s members – including House Minority Leader Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, and Senate Minority Leader Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum – to wonder why the governor would be unilaterally eliminating programs like the Parents as Teachers program, an $800,000 program for which contracts are being canceled as of mid-June. The move is part of Gov. Butch Otter’s unannounced decision to quietly terminate “Generation of the Child” programs started by former Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, and is related to declining federal welfare funds; it surfaced this week in news reports. “The Legislature passed the appropriation for the Parents as Teachers – how can that be summarily dismissed and cancelled?” Stennett asked.
Holland-Smith responded that the item is within the child welfare appropriation of the Health & Welfare budget, but didn’t have a specific line item. But several members of the joint leadership panel said they didn’t know anything about the decision. “What I know is what I read in the newspaper, and that’s all,” said Senate President Pro-Tem Bob Geddes.
The council decided to have Holland-Smith and other legislative staffers report back with more information on what’s going on with that and other affected programs this afternoon. JFAC Co-Chair Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, who was in the audience, said, “I’m like Sen. Geddes – the only thing I’ve really read is what’s been in the newspaper.” Cameron added, “The executive branch does have the authority to run their agencies and make sure that the money is handled appropriately when we’re not here in session.” But he said he didn’t have enough information yet to know what he thought about the moves.