Eye On Boise

Ag budget set with just one-time funding for anti-milfoil efforts

Idaho's state Agriculture Department would see a 15.8 percent increase in state general funds next year, under a budget set by JFAC this morning, but that's largely because the Legislature is continuing to fund the Eurasian water milfoil containment program on a one-time basis. That means last year's expenditure is subtracted out of the budget when comparisons are made, but in reality, the state is funding the program each year; it'll cost $900,000 next year. Total funds for the department would drop 1.2 percent next year.

The department requested that the milfoil funding next year be considered an ongoing expense, but Gov. Butch Otter recommended just one-time funds. "It seems like people have to keep begging for that money," said Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum. Legislative budget analyst Ray Houston said, "They requested it as ongoing, but the governor, in looking at the budget, just said there isn't enough ongoing money."

JFAC Co-Chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, said, "It's one of those places we're doing a stopgap and hoping for better days."

Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, said she's  concerned. "It's an ongoing problem, and there is no other source of money other than the general fund," she said. "It doesn't sound like the decision to do it one-time, it's not a comment on the validity of the program or the need, it's just a money-management issue." Said Keough, "It's like mowing the lawn - you've got to keep up on it."

Milfoil is an invasive and fast-growing aquatic weed that can choke water bodies including Idaho's scenic lakes; the state's been working for several years to eradicate it. The Ag Department budget, which totals $7.5 million in state general funds and $36.5 million in total funds, still needs approval from the House and Senate and the governor's signature to become law, but budget bills rarely change after they're set by the joint committee.




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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog.

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