Legislative budget writers took another major step toward their goal of freezing the total number of state employees on Friday when they overwhelmingly rejected Republican Gov. Phil Batt’s proposal to put five more State Police officers on the highways.
The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee voted 16-2 against including $387,200 in general tax revenues for the extra officers’ salaries and equipment.
Appropriations Chairman Kathleen Gurnsey, R-Boise, said she had received indications from the Department of Law Enforcement that adding officers could be delayed.
No one, including department Director Bob Sobba, disputed Gurnsey’s statement, but less than two hours later a miffed Batt said he had sent no signal to anyone that he had changed his mind about the extra officers.
“I don’t back the move to cut those and because she has not heard from us is no reason,” the governor said. “They were in my budget message and they were in my State of the State message and I think we do need more state patrolmen. We’ve had the same amount for the last 15 years and greatly increased traffic and greatly increased responsibility.”
It was the second time in recent years budget writers have rejected gubernatorial proposals to cope with increasing traffic caused by the state’s dramatic population growth.
Retired Democratic Gov. Cecil Andrus’ proposal to add 64 officers to the State Police corps by imposing a $100 fee on the registration of vehicles from other states was rejected out of hand by the House a year ago.
Batt had slashed payrolls in other areas, particularly the huge Department of Health and Welfare, to come up with a 1996 spending blueprint that accommodated additional police and prison guards, even at modest levels, while still increasing the overall state payroll by just 16 full-time employees.
In that same budget address, however, the governor promised to eventually freeze the number of state employees and he encouraged lawmakers to find another sixteen positions to eliminate in the 1996 budget to reach that goal immediately.
And several members of the budget committee have won majority support to do just that.
Combined with previous decisions over the past two weeks, budget writers have trimmed the net increase in employees in the new budget to under five. But of the 11 positions eliminated from the governor’s budget, Batt had backed keeping the five officers and four workers to run to new state liquor stores, and he expressed some concern about the House-Senate committee’s decision on Thursday to eliminate the job of administrator of Veterans Services.
Many expect lawmakers will eventually be overwhelmed by veterans groups, with whom Bermeosolo was reportedly a very popular advocate for veterans causes.
But Republican Sen. Dean Cameron of Rupert, who has made the elimination of those 16 additional full-time jobs a personal crusade, was unable to convince his colleagues on the committee to eliminate a parttime secretary for the Board of Tax Appeals.
And by the time the panel considered the State Library, a majority was ready to support adding $50,000 to Batt’s spending plan for support of local public libraries around the state.
That ended Idaho’s distinction as one of the few states in the nation that provides no financial support to the local public library system.