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Lawmakers oppose adding back cut staffers

Idaho's Legislative Council meets on Tuesday (Betsy Russell)
Idaho's Legislative Council meets on Tuesday (Betsy Russell)

Idaho's Legislative Council, the joint committee that handles the business of the Legislature when it's not in session, today voted down a proposal to add back two legislative staff positions to partially make up recent years' cuts. Legislative Services Director Jeff Youtz presented a request to add one budget analyst; there currently are six, down from the usual eight; and one legislative auditor, as that division is down three auditors from its level five years ago. Legislative Audits Division chief Don Berg explained that audits of state agencies take a certain number of hours, and they have to be done and done by certain deadlines; with less staff, auditors have to work overtime, and the cost ends up the same as adding back a position.

Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, said, "I'm hesitant to approve an increase beyond the status quo. ... I would remind us, we're not cutting anybody, we're just talking about adding two new employees. ... Although we recognize the workload of our staff, I still maintain we're growing government at a time we don't have an increase in our economic recovery."

Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, said, "We've been cutting staff and cutting government for more than four years now, since the very beginning of this recession. ... Some of the cuts in fact don't save us money. ... I think we have to be smart about this." But Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d'Alene, said, "I recognize the challenge that the LSO personnel have in serving all of our needs, but at the same time I don't see a budget coming forth that's going to allow for anything but an MCO (maintenance of current operations) budget, and I would move for an MCO budget, maintenance of current operations." Rep. John Rusche, D-Lewiston, offered a substitute motion to approve the new staffers, but it died on a voice vote, and Hammond's motion passed.

The final decision will be made by JFAC when it sets budgets. Youtz said, "Whatever the Legislature ends up giving us, we'll make it work for you and make it work well. Thanks for the discussion."

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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