Among the questions legislative budget writers have had this morning about the governor's budget proposal:
Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, asked if cuts to mental health and substance abuse services that are becoming a problem for law enforcement and local governments will be restored; Wayne Hammon, the governor's budget chief, said no. “In the governor's recommendation, those reductions that have been made by this committee and the Legislature over the last few years have not been restored, with the exception of those grants at the Department of Commerce,” he said.
Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, asked why the governor planned for one-time, conditional bonuses for state employees rather than permanent pay raises. Hammon responded, “The governor's just not comfortable spending every dime that's in the forecast.” He said Gov. Butch Otter would like to grant permanent raises, but is worried about state revenues; if they come in higher than projections, he said, there might well be a proposal next year to make the pay boosts permanent. Jaquet responded, “It makes sense. … It doesn't feel quite good.”
Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, asked why the governor capped general-fund spending growth for state agencies at 5 percent, when counties have a limit on their property tax budget growth of 3 percent. “With the revenue forecast provided to us, we believe that this level of additional spending at 5 percent is affordable and the right thing to do,” Hammon said. JFAC Co-Chair Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, noted that with the governor's proposal for $45 million in tax cuts, “that equals a 2 percent reduction. … The governor in essence has a 3 percent budget plan. Is that not an appropriate way to think of it?” Hammon said, “You're right, it's very close.” LeFavour noted that the state has cut its budget sharply in the last few years, “which is something local governments generally don't do.”
Cameron asked how the governor's budget treats salary-based apportionment and the salary grid in the public school budget. Hammon said it makes no change from existing law, meaning the “Students Come First” law's requirement to shift funds out of the salary funds into technology boosts and merit-pay programs stands. The $31.6 million increase for public schools in the governor's budget proposal includes $11.2 million for student population growth, and virtually all the rest goes for requirements of the Students Come First law, which phases in laptop computers for every high school student, a new focus on online learning, and teacher merit pay.