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Eye On Boise

Budget cuts bring another thorny problem…

JFAC members are wrestling with another thorny issue now: It turns out it’s not so simple to apply the 3 percent across-the-board pay cut they’ve approved for all state employees to those at state colleges and universities. That’s because for colleges or universities to cut pay for tenured faculty members, the state Board of Education would have to declare a “financial exigency,” something that could then be challenged in court. In the early 1980s, the University of Idaho declared one of those, and a faculty member challenged it in court and won, winning reinstatement and back pay. Another case in the ‘80s involving BSU went the other way; the school won in court, beating back a challenge. Members of JFAC gathered in the 5th floor library of the Capitol Annex this afternoon to kick the issue around at an informal workshop, and were stymied. “No matter what we do, it’s going to be unfair to somebody,” said Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert.

Mike Rush, executive director of the Board of Education, said, “Where we’ve lost the court cases is where the employee can demonstrate that the university had another option.” Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, said, “At times like this I believe in spending good money on lawyers - we’re ripe for lawsuits.” Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, said if university employees will be exempted from the across-the-board pay cut, perhaps lawmakers should give up on it and just leave it up to state agencies as to how to   meet a 5 percent cut in personnel funding. However, that’d require redoing all the budget bills that JFAC already has set this year - each has the 3 percent pay cut written into it. At the suggestion of budget analyst Matt Freeman - who’s also a lawyer - the committee decided to request an Idaho Attorney General’s opinion. They’re still scheduled to set the budget for colleges and universities in the morning, but they’ll leave aside the pay cut issue until they have legal guidance.

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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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