The Idaho House reluctantly approved a Department of Correction budget on Wednesday despite raging debate over a pay raise given to the department’s director.
The 53-15 vote sending the $89 million budget to the Senate for final legislative approval came only after one lawmaker after another had expressed surprise and annoyance that director James Spalding had received a 20 percent, $16,000 pay hike to $95,000 a year.
State Rep. Robert Schaefer called it “an unconscionably large raise.”
“It’s not my intent to kill the bill,” the Nampa Republican said. “It’s just that I think we need a strong message sent that something’s amiss here.”
But Rep. Maxine Bell argued the overall agency budget is justified by the growing needs of Idaho’s crowded prison system. The Jerome Republican said Correction Department employees who went without a pay increase this year deserve the average 5 percent raise in the appropriation. They should not be punished because of the Board of Correction’s decision on Spalding, she said.
Rep. Celia Gould, R-Buhl, said Spalding got the raise to keep his salary ahead of the pay level it took to hire a qualified deputy director for the department.
“I think the timing was bad, I think the amount was bad, I think it was the wrong thing to do,” Gould said. But if the agency’s appropriations bill is rejected, “we’ll be cutting our own throats.”
Bell said there would be other opportunities to hold the Correction Board accountable for giving Spalding the raise.
“I don’t think this is an issue that will go away after this budget’s passed,” she said.
In fact, about an hour later, the House unanimously approved a bill giving the governor authority to designate which of the three Correction Board members will be chairman. The board now selects its own chairman.
Rep. Debbie Field, R-Boise, said the change should ensure the board consults with the governor before making any future decision like the one to raise Spalding’s pay.