After a month of assessing the state’s most critical needs, legislative budget writers face the task of trimming Gov. Phil Batt’s already conservative spending blueprint to make ends meet.
“The budget is too tight at this point, given the governor didn’t leave enough money on the table,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bob Geddes, R-Preston, said. “We’ve got to find at least another $5 million.”
Batt juggled more than just a handful of balls when he put his $1.5 billion general tax budget together last fall.
After three years of scrimping, the retiring chief executive wanted to smooth the way for his heir-apparent, U.S. Sen. Dirk Kempthorne, so Batt included $21 million for state workers’ pay increases and $20 million to make up for rising expenses and deteriorating equipment.
But he also had to use millions of dollars of limited general tax revenue to make up for the failure of special government funds to keep pace with the demand being placed on them. Hazardous-waste and clean-water programs as well as a score of state police officers have to be paid with general tax money.
Batt also wants to pay off $2 million in medical bills for poor people, make a $1 million down payment on a multimillion-dollar expansion at the state park at McCall and provide a marked boost in state support for public and higher education. Still, two-thirds of the scaled-back agency requests for increased state support went begging.
And even solid 5 percent revenue growth was not enough to cover his plan, so Batt turned to the Tax Commission for the difference. Investing $2 million in two dozen tax collectors easily should result in $12.5 million being collected from people who have not filed state income tax returns and from out-of-staters who do business in Idaho but fail to pay state sales taxes.
The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee is to decide whether to go along on Tuesday. Skepticism remains relatively high even knowing that without the extra cash, spending decisions will be that much harder.
Batt’s budget would spend all but $2.3 million the state expects to generate by mid-1999. He left that amount to handle spending demands in the judicial system and other statewide elected offices.
But two tax bills are wiping out that money. Conforming with the latest federal tax code changes - crucial to keeping Idaho’s tax system relatively simple - costs $1.2 million, and replenishing the tax refund account claims the other $1.1 million.
Compounding the budget committee’s problems is declining federal support for many programs that has their advocates looking to the state treasury to keep them going. They each want only from $50,000 to a few hundred thousand dollars, but put a dozen or two of those together and the money adds up.
“This year, I’m hearing more from people who are not involved with state agencies who want more money put into these programs,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Atwell Parry, R-Melba.
“They need something to tide them over,” Parry said. “But the state can’t help them all.”