JFAC members gathered in an early-morning workshop today to hear from Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane on legal implications of proposing a 3 percent across-the-board pay cut for higher education. Essentially, they learned that they can’t order that, but they can request it. The state Board of Education has constitutional authority in that area, not the Legislature, and there are issues with tenured faculty and contracts. Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, raised concerns that if higher ed has discretion over how to handle the 5 percent cut in personnel costs that JFAC is ordering, but other agencies are tied down to doing a 3 percent across-the-board pay cut as part of that, it wouldn’t be fair.
“Madam Chair, I know you don’t like rebellion within your ranks, but now we’ve changed the ball game,” he told JFAC Co-Chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome. Some JFAC members raised the prospect of rewriting all the budgets they’ve already passed - 15 or 16 of them - to make them “requests” as well, but that prospect didn’t go over well. “All those budgets would have to be brought back,” said Bell. Co-Chair Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said a trailer bill might be able to make changes in already-passed budgets. Meanwhile, JFAC is about to pass the budget this morning for the state catastrophic fund, which matches legislation now moving through to raise counties’ deductible for indigent medical cases from $10,000 to $11,000. Still, with all the budgets set so far, “We’re upside down,” Cameron said. Lawmakers likely will have to dip into budget stabilization funds.
Sen. Diane Bilyeu, D-Pocatello, said she’s been hearing from home that people think JFAC has cut the Medical Isotope Production project at ISU, a $4 million project. “We’ve never seen it,” Bell said. “It was never anything that was in a hearing before this committee.” Gov. Butch Otter had identified the project as one of three he wanted to fund from $35 million in federal stimulus money for universities, but that money instead was split with half going into university budgets for next year, and the other half for the following year. Bell said she and Cameron are meeting with the governor today. Bilyeu asked if they could ask the governor to fund the isotope project from the $44.5 million in stimulus money over which he has discretion, prompting a noisy round of similar requests. Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, said she’d favor funding for an interpreter for the deaf cut from an earlier budget.