Lawmakers have taken their first formal action to spend federal stimulus money, as the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee voted unanimously this morning to cut this year’s budget for public schools by $85.1 million, but immediately fill in the hole with an equal amount of federal stimulus money. “We’re taking advantage of the … stimulus dollars to make sure that we’re holding public schools harmless in 2009,” said Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint. Of course, lawmakers had previously planned to fill that hole with money from the state’s $114 million public education stabilization fund, a reserve fund specifically for schools. Now, that fund will stay intact for use later.
The move was one of a series JFAC approved this morning, which also included a boost to this year’s Medicaid budget thanks to the increase in federal funding for Medicaid this year included in the stimulus bill. That change will prevent the Health & Welfare Department from having to carry over $16 million in expenses from this year into next year and will cover $4 million in other anticipated cost increases, but won’t head off the cuts in Medicaid services that lawmakers already have decided to make this year, cutting the Medicaid budget by 6 percent. Overall, the change means Medicaid will kick back $52 million to the state's general fund this year, money that then can go elsewhere in the state budget.