Trapped by last month’s vote for a property tax cut, the Senate on Tuesday grudgingly approved a $168.5 million aid package for higher education that many acknowledged was inadequate and would increase the burden on students.
“In a year of surplus, we really put ourselves in a box to have to do this,” Democrat Marguerite McLaughlin of Orofino said.
Passage of the state-financed $40 million property tax reduction left budget writers and their colleagues little leeway in putting the 1996 state spending plan together. They were forced to follow the bare-bones framework laid out by Republican Gov. Phil Batt and settle for an increase of just 2.5 percent over this year’s aid package.
“What we’re doing is laying the tax on the kids and not the general public,” said McLaughlin, who joined 30 of her colleagues in voting to send the bill to the House for final action.
Only Republican Gary Schroeder of Moscow and Democrat Claire Wetherell of Mountain Home opposed the bill.
“It is with great pain I’m going to vote on this,” said Republican Moon Wheeler of American Falls, who represents Idaho State University and who voted for the governor’s tax reduction package.
“We need to look at our programs and do a little bit better next year,” Wheeler said.
The bill adds $200,000 to the $1.8 million from the existing budget to underwrite expanded engineering education in Boise and provides cash to accommodate enrollment increases. But it essentially includes no money to improve depressed salaries at the three universities and Lewis-Clark State College or to finance program demands.
“We have to look at our ability to pay,” Republican Rod Beck of Boise said. “We have to remember that sometimes to some people it’s never enough.”
At the same time, however, the Senate, without debate or dissent, found another $123,000 in taxpayers’ cash to dump into operations of agriculture’s Quality Assurance Laboratory in Twin Falls. If ratified by the House, that would bring to over $550,000 the amount taxpayers have spent to run the facility, which farm interests promised would never require a dime of state money to operate.
And the Senate voted 20-14 to ratify the $105,000 cut budget writers imposed on Idaho Educational Public Television on grounds that it is top-heavy with overpaid managers.