The co-chairs of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee both say they’d be glad to have their budget analysts review the proposed alternative budget unveiled today by a coalition including former state chief economist Mike Ferguson and former state schools superintendents Jerry Evans and Marilyn Howard. After Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, said he’d like to see the joint committee’s nonpartisan staff analyze the plan, Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said, “That’s a reasonable idea,” and Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, said, “Oh my, yes.”
Bell said the plan’s approach, of shifting $71.7 million now tabbed for additional deposits to state savings accounts next year and $30 million set aside for possible tax cuts, “does free up a fairly good-sized amount of money.” But, she said, “When the governor gave his budget, those were priorities.”
Bell noted that lawmakers who served during the recession know how far the state had to reach into savings, “having been down so far and taken so much money to hold on.” She said, “Everybody is just so worried. ... It took so much savings before, and this governor does not want a (mid-year budget) holdback ever again.”
The House Appropriations chairwoman said she’s looking favorably on the governor’s suggestion to bump up the maximum amount that can go into the state’s main savings account, the budget stabilization fund, from 5 percent of the state budget to 10 percent. The alternative budget plan does, however, leave 10 percent of next year’s spending in savings, when all state rainy-day accounts and unallocated funds are combined.
Bell also said she can understand why members of the governor’s education task force would want to see their recommendations implemented more quickly than the incremental plan that Gov. Butch Otter outlined for next year, because “they worked too hard and too long,” she said, and sometimes when plans are put into effect very slowly, parts get lost.
“I don’t think not having the tax relief is a very big issue,” she said. “It’s the right thing to do when you can. I think the difficult part will be backing off on the amount of savings, because of where we’ve been.”