October 13, 2005 in Idaho

Panel glimpses budget wish list

By The Spokesman-Review
 

PRIEST LAKE, Idaho – State legislators on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee got a sneak preview of agency budget requests for the next fiscal year during their tour of North Idaho this week.

At a workshop Wednesday morning at Elkins Resort, legislative budget analysts shared with lawmakers requests from the state’s largest departments: education, corrections, health and welfare, and higher education.

And while the state is going into the next fiscal year with a $200 million carryover from the previous year, it quickly became apparent that the surplus can’t cover all the needs of those agencies.

Corrections alone, for instance, could use almost the entire $200 million to build much-needed prisons to house its increasing inmate population.

Medicaid expenditures, administered by the state Department of Health and Welfare, are expected to grow faster than any other segment of the state budget until they surpass the biggest budget in the state – education – in about 10 years, said Jeff Youtz, budget director for the Legislature.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Education is going for its biggest budget ever, for the first time breaking the $1 billion barrier in the general fund.

“For the short term, we have pretty good resources,” Youtz said.

“But that long-term trend … I don’t think our current revenue structure is going to be able to handle that.”

Here’s a few of the highlights from Wednesday’s preview of preliminary budget requests:

Public Schools: Following a national report that ranks Idaho 32nd in teacher pay, the Department of Education is proposing a 3 percent increase in the base salary of teachers, administrators and classified employees. That’s expected to cost $7.9 million.

Another big ticket item in the proposed budget is $5.6 million to fund Superintendent Marilyn Howard’s physical education initiative to hire physical education teachers in an effort to combat obesity.

With the spike in fuel costs, the state Department of Education also is asking for a $2.2 million increase in its transportation budget.

While many school districts are feeling the fuel pinch now, they won’t be able to access those dollars until next year – assuming the increase is approved.

Overall, the schools budget request represents a 6.3 percent increase over the current fiscal year.

Corrections: Idaho’s prisons are overcrowded, and the state is negotiating with Minnesota to house the overflow, reported corrections budget analyst Richard Burns.

The Legislature will be asked in January to increase the agency’s budget for contract beds by $3.7 million this year to cover the $53 per day cost to house each of them out of state.

In the long run, the agency wants to add onto existing prisons and construct a 1,500-bed men’s prison near the Idaho Correction Center. The entire capital budget request is $182 million.

In addition, the department wants to increase the pay of its uniformed staff by an average of 10 percent. The overall proposed corrections budget increase is 20 percent, not including capital costs.

Health and Welfare: One of the biggest new responsibilities for this agency in the coming year will be administering the federal Medicare Part D prescription plan.

The state not only is responsible for educating the public about the complex new prescription drug plan, but must pay for the bulk of the prescriptions, said budget analyst Cathy Holland-Smith.

It’s expected to cost the state about $16 million in the next fiscal year.

Other proposed increases in the agency’s budget are $1.2 million more for foster care costs, $3.5 million more to cover indigent health care, and $750,000 more for drugs to battle AIDS.

Higher Education: Colleges and universities are asking for a nearly 15 percent increase in their combined budget for next year, but that’s without any paring down or prioritizing by the State Board of Education, which oversees the higher education institutions.

The board took exception to a letter from legislators in May that questioned whether the board was forwarding much-needed budget requests to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, said Matt Freeman, legislative budget analyst.

“The board kind of overreacted,” Freeman said, and passed along every request made by the university and college presidents to the state.

Among the requests is $7.4 million to make university salaries more competitive with other universities, particularly Washington State University, just across the state line from the University of Idaho.

North Idaho College, meanwhile, is asking for money to help with operating funds at its new Health and Sciences Building and to open up satellite campuses in Bonners Ferry and Plummer.


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