Legislative budget writers showed how tightfisted they could be Tuesday, balking at a plan to buy $2,300 desks and setting the inflation factor for all state agencies at zero.
The State Insurance Fund had requested 14 new employees, and with them, 14 new desks and chairs, to handle the crush of new workers’ compensation policies that now are required for the agriculture industry. The fund expects to write 4,000 to 5,000 new policies for farmers in the next year.
Rep. Don Pischner, R-Coeur d’Alene, noticed that the budget request called for 14 desks at $2,300 apiece, 14 chairs at $300 apiece and 14 computers at $3,300 apiece.
“I asked for a description of a $2,300 desk,” Pischner said.
That sparked 30 minutes of wrangling on the budget committee, which nearly slashed the number of new employees to be added. None of the money involved comes from state general tax funds. It’s all from premiums paid in by employers who buy the insurance policies.
Said Pischner, “I think there’s a message being sent out that the sky isn’t the limit here.”
He added, “I think that is kind of a lot of money for a desk.”
Insurance Fund chief Drew Forney said the desks are work stations, including credenzas and file cabinets, designed to fit the layout of the office.
They were to be purchased from the state’s Correctional Industries, through which prison inmates manufacture items including office furniture.
Rep. Ron Black, R-Twin Falls, said, “I’m sorry, there’s a lot cheaper desks out there. I just can’t in good conscience vote for them here.”
He proposed cutting the capital outlay portion of the budget request - the part for purchasing large items - from $117,600 to $75,000. After two other motions failed narrowly, Black’s motion passed the committee on an 11-9 vote.
The change will force the agency to look for ways to economize, Black said.
The request was one of more than 50 so-called “supplemental” budget requests that the Joint FinanceAppropriations Committee is sorting through this week. They ask for additional money in the current year’s budget to address needs unforeseen when the budget was set.
Gov. Phil Batt recommended funding most of the requests, including the State Insurance Fund one.
The governor also called for a zero inflation factor to be used in setting budgets for state agencies for the coming year, although he allowed up to a 2 percent inflation factor for certain areas such as Medicaid.
JFAC voted Tuesday to set inflation at zero across the board, regardless of the fact that the consumer price index is estimated to go up 2.8 percent. The committee will consider inflationary increases for individual agencies if they’re necessary.
It’s the same decision JFAC has made in four of the past five years, according to legislative budget analyst Jeff Youtz. In past years, inflationary increases for individual agencies have been extremely rare, he said.