State money for school construction? Forget it.
According to Gov. Phil Batt’s proposed budget for the coming year, there won’t be any.
But Sen. Mary Lou Reed, D-Coeur d’Alene, isn’t giving up. “There are a lot of bills on school facilities that are floating around, so that issue is not dead.”
In fact, the House and Senate education committees are scheduled to hear at least three different plans for state funding of school construction during a joint hearing this morning. Idaho now leaves local property taxpayers with the full bill.
But, Reed conceded, “there’s no question revenue is down and it has to be a tight budget.”
Highlights of the frugal budget plan the governor presented to the Legislature on Wednesday include:
Work force training. Batt is calling for a special fund, to receive about $3 million a year from unemployment taxes, for training workers. The idea is to help companies that want to relocate to Idaho or local firms that want to expand.
Gas tax hike. Batt drew applause when he asked, “When will we make Highway 95 a first-class route all the way from Canada to the Oregon-Nevada border?” As a first step toward fixing Highway 95 and other routes around the state, the governor called for a 4-cent increase in the gas tax. He also backed a boost in vehicle registration fees.
State employees would get an average 3 percent merit raise.
A nearly non-existent capital budget. “We just don’t have much money to spend on buildings,” Batt said. North Idaho College had requested a modest $400,000 to start work on a $5.5 million Trade and Industry Building; it got nothing.
The only new project Batt recommended funding was a $3 million historical archives building in Boise. He also recommended about $880,000 for two prison expansion projects that he termed “another distasteful but necessary expense.”
Education. Batt said he funneled as much as he could into education, after covering necessities such as prison costs and rising medical costs. But his recommended appropriation of $689.5 million, a 3.8 percent increase, falls far short of Superintendent Anne Fox’s request for $710.5 million, a 7 percent increase.
Fox said after Batt’s talk that the change will endanger raises for Idaho’s most experienced teachers, who are off the salary schedule that boosts pay for each year of experience.
Community colleges. Control over 95 state vocational education employees would be transferred to the community colleges (they work there already). Aside from that, the two community colleges (including North Idaho College) would get an 8.9 percent budget boost.
Budget holdback. Batt cut state spending by 2 percent midway through the current fiscal year because tax revenues came in lower than expected. On Wednesday, he asked the Legislature to make that “holdback” permanent, by keeping the 2 percent decrease in next year’s base budget.
The only exception the governor made was for public schools, because if the Legislature doesn’t restore the $13 million cut there, an automatic property tax increase could kick in. Batt advised lawmakers to take $4 million from the state school endowment fund and tap the state’s $30 million “rainy day fund” to make up the rest of the school holdback.
University salaries. Batt proposed $1.9 million to increase Idaho’s university faculty salaries. That’s an eighth of what studies show Idaho needs to bring the salaries up to market levels.
A $500,000 monitoring program would add 10 employees at the state Division of Environmental Quality to monitor polluted streams. The program was required by a court order.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo Graphic: Gov. Batt’s proposed budget