The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee is continuing to set very tight budgets for state agencies this morning. At the Industrial Commission, which receives no state general tax funds, the budget set for next year shows a 1.3 percent increase. The state Department of Insurance, which also gets no general funds, shows a 4.7 percent increase, but that’s largely because of a $257,500 increase in costs for contract examiners. Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, proposed an alternative budget cutting that amount by half and making several other trims in the department’s budget, including eliminating replacement items including 10 chairs, and one truck from the state fire marshal, but the other plan, from Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls, passed on a 14-6 vote.
Thayn said the Department of Insurance has reverted funds from its budget each year for several years, so it could cover the costs; his budget proposal showed just a 2.7 percent overall increase. “So you’re going to penalize them from turning money back, that’s what you’re saying,” commented JFAC Co-Chair Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, noted that the department has numerous employees whose salaries fall below state policy levels. “I recognize that the director and those that work for the Department of Insurance have been extremely frugal and have worked diligently to keep costs and expenses down, and I think they are to be commended for that,” he said. But Mortimer said he’s concerned about pay levels; Rep. Steve Miller, R-Fairfield, added that turnover costs may be higher than the costs of bringing employee pay up to competitive levels.
“Intent language” that the joint committee earlier approved is being added to every state agency budget, encouraging raises or bonuses from any available personnel cost savings. Mortimer encouraged Insurance to take advantage of that.
The budget set for the state Department of Labor showed a startling bottom-line increase of 202 percent, but that’s only because of an accounting change. “This huge increase is strictly due to bringing the Unemployment Insurance Penalty and Interest Fund and the Special Administration Fund on-budget,” said Rep. Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell. Those funds previously fell under state Board of Examiners approval, rather than being included in the legislative appropriation. The change is being made in the interest of transparency. The Department of Labor gets only a tiny portion of its funding from state general funds; those will fall next year by 31 percent, as a result of the fourth year of a four-year phaseout of state funding for the Idaho Human Rights Commission, which is shifting to dedicated funds within the department.