Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, moved to approve a budget for the Department of Environmental Quality next year that is very close to the governor's recommendation, but adds $50,000 each to restore funding for the Pend Oreille Lakes Commission and the Bear Lake Regional Commission. Both were zero-funded last year amid budget cuts. Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, offered a substitute motion that didn't include the lakes commission funding, but added $239,200 for targeted 3 percent raises to technical staff. “This is an area where turnover is extremely costly,” Ringo said. “We need to incentivize these well-trained employees who love to work at DEQ. We want them to stay at DEQ and know that there is a future with the organization.”
Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, then offered a substitute motion including both Ringo's targeted pay hike, and Keough's lakes commission funding. However, both it and Ringo's motion failed on 4-16 party-line votes. “I'm afraid this is going to lead us to additional problems,” said Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover. “We can't do this with every agency. We've got problems with the departments of correction, transportation. … We've got this issue across the board, and if we're going to do it here, then I feel we've got an obligation to do this with every agency.” Eskridge said he didn't think that would be fiscally responsible, “and No. 2, I don't think we'll get it through the system, and we'll be back visiting all these budgets again.”
After both those motions failed, Keough's passed unanimously. It funds the DEQ next at $14.3 million in general funds and $61.9 million in total funds; that's a 3.5 percent increase in general funds, and a 0.8 percent increase in total funds.