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Eye On Boise

Fri., Feb. 13, 2009, 7:38 a.m.

‘Our job is to balance the budget’

A target for setting next year's budget of $2.5579 billion in general funds - a figure more than $100 million below the governor's recommended budget - has been unanimously approved by the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. Getting there would mean a 5 percent cut in personnel funding statewide - and could even mean an across-the-board pay cut, if it couldn't be accomplished through furloughs, keeping vacant positions vacant, layoffs or other moves. The governor would be authorized to make such a move. It would also mean $62 million in budget cuts for public schools next year, plus another $47.4 million from public schools for the personnel funding cut, bringing total school cuts to nearly $110 million next year; no increase in the grocery tax credit; no conformance with IRS tax law changes (a $2 million cost, and a bill that's already moving quickly through the Legislature); no enhancements in any agency budgets, and more - all decisions that haven't yet been made, and that, if they go otherwise, will require other cuts or other budget changes. The approach also anticipates spending $95 million from the state's various reserve funds, another call that hasn't yet been made.

The idea is that as JFAC sets every state agency's budget, these assumptions will be built in as budget writers begin structuring budget bills. Wayne Hammon, Gov. Butch Otter's budget chief, said, "The governor is in support of this language, he's reviewed it, and believes it will give him and his directors the flexibility they need to go forward ... without being so prescriptive that it ties our hands down the road." More flexibility, he said, will allow the state to "do the least amount of harm to our employees."  

Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, said, "It turns us upside down in terms of what our goals have been." Said Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, "We're kind of in this gloom and doom scenario. ... We're taking some tough steps here, but we are going to get out of this, it could be much worse, and the steps that we are taking are positive steps that will allow us to turn around." He said it's most important to him to keep people working, including state employees. Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said, "Our job is to balance the budget. We'll do our job and we'll trust that the directors will do their jobs appropriately."

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Eye On Boise

News, happenings and more from the Idaho Legislature and the state capital.