As lawmakers set the budget for the Department of Fish & Game this morning, they were faced with an extensive budget that includes no state general tax funds, but has an array of projects funded from licenses, fees and federal funds, from hatchery operations to big game management, all recommended by Gov. Butch Otter. The bottom line shows a drop in overall spending of 4.3 percent. A group of four JFAC members crafted the successful budget motion; it matches the governor’s, with one exception: It cuts out 10 of the 78 vehicles proposed for replacement as part of the department’s fleet management program, saving $260,000. “We wanted, I guess, to demonstrate the fact that we were indeed looking,” said Rep. Marc Gibbs, R-Grace. “It wasn’t just rubber-stamping.”
Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, said, “There are some vehicles there with pretty low mileage, in the 80,000 range.”
Asked about the cuts in relatively small items like cars and office chairs that JFAC members are making in some state agency budgets as they set them for next year, committee Co-Chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, said, “They’re trying so hard to be thorough, and about the only thing that is available … is replacement items.” Before beginning its agency budget-setting this year, JFAC voted to include no inflationary increases; and for agencies with 100 or more employees, benefit cost increases are being funded at 95 percent rather than 100 percent to account for turnover. Plus, the joint committee set a 3 percent ceiling overall for its general fund appropriations to state agencies.
State agency budgets already have been squeezed by years of budget cuts. Requests for replacement items show up as one-time funding requests needed to maintain services at their current level. Said Bell, “It’s the only place to go.”