Arrow-right Camera


Budget Includes Technology, Building Funds But Respite-Care Program, Head Start Expansion Suffer

Budget writers dumped more than $52 million into construction and technology on Tuesday but could not find an extra $400,000 to include more poor children in the Head Start program.

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee did agree to buck Republican Gov. Phil Batt’s elimination of a program that gives family members a break from caring for incapacitated relatives.

But the House-Senate panel’s 1996 general tax budget includes only $100,000 of the $156,000 needed to keep the respite-care program running at current levels.

“It isn’t exactly what was needed, but in light of all the other parameters and pieces of the budget, this will at least keep the program going,” Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, told her colleagues.

The decisions wrapped up all but a few loose ends of the spending blueprint that totals just more than $1.35 billion.

Based on existing revenue estimates, the panel has only $3.5 million left to handle any of the estimated $4 million in tax breaks and new spending bills still pending as lawmakers drive toward a March 17 adjournment date.

The panel came up with money to cover cost overruns on buildings at Idaho State University and Eastern Idaho Technical College, to increase high-technology education and programs at the universities and in libraries, to finance a 500-bed prison addition and a 60-bed juvenile detention facility, to pay for buildings at Boise State University and the University of Idaho and to pay for planning an engineering building at Boise State.

But to keep from running into the red, the committee voted 10-9 to cut state building maintenance from $12 million to $11 million - a move critics warned would cost the state more in the future.

Experts say that with $1.2 billion invested in buildings throughout Idaho, the state should be spending as much as $36 million a year on maintenance to avoid deterioration. But while even more new structures are in the works, lawmakers repeatedly have scrimped on maintenance.This year, they also earmarked $350,000 to tear down state buildings that are no longer usable.

One of the major issues pending before the committee is the fate of longtime Veterans Services Administrator Gary Bermeosolo. The committee eliminated the job two weeks ago, claiming it amounts to excessive bureaucracy.

Since then, veterans have campaigned rather effectively to reverse the decision, but the retention of Bermeosolo in the $66,000-a-year job remains uncertain.Senate Finance Chairman Atwell Parry, R-Melba, said he would have “to call the troops back together” to resolve the issue once and for all.

In its final full session on 1996 budget issues, the committee:

Rejected an attempt to cut half of the 37 employees from the state Oversight Program for the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory.

Program critics claimed the agency does nothing but check environmental test results that already have been checked by at least two other agencies. But opponents of the staff reduction warned against precipitous action based on emotion rather than fact.

Provided $40,000 to finish timber studies in the St. Joe, Clearwater and west-central Idaho highlands areas.

Supporters of the so-called respite program had been lobbying budget writers for weeks to restore the $168,000 they had devoted to the project a year ago over Batt’s objections.

Aimed at keeping the elderly or disabled in their own homes and out of expensive nursing homes, the program provides volunteers to sit in for family care-givers, giving them a break from the tedium in the hope they will not give up.