March 3, 2007 in Idaho

Funds set for office for ISP

Betsy Z. Russell Staff writer

State budget

Lawmakers so far have set a $2.81 billion general fund budget for next year, an 8.4 percent increase. It’s $29.1 million below the governor’s recommendation but doesn’t yet include funding for his proposed $38 million endowment for college scholarships.

BOISE – Coeur d’Alene will get a new secure Idaho State Police office, two new nursing education buildings will be built around the state, and Idaho will make a big investment in repairs and maintenance for its $3 billion in state buildings.

All of those were included in a $138 million budget set Friday for major building investments for the state next year. The capital budget was one of the final pieces legislative budget writers had to fashion to complete the state budget puzzle.

Gov. Butch Otter had proposed most of the initiatives, including a huge $69.6 million one-time investment into long-delayed maintenance on state buildings.

“I appreciate that support from him, because it was the one time that we could do it right,” said House Appropriations Chairwoman Maxine Bell, R-Jerome. “There’s never enough to take care of this investment, and this is one time – we have some one-time funding from this robust economy that we’ll very carefully put into some places of great need.”

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee rejected, however, Otter’s recommendation for a $1.8 million temporary building, called a “Sprung Structure,” to house 100 inmates at Idaho’s overflowing state prisons. In an earlier tour of a similar structure at a Boise prison, some lawmakers were told that a determined inmate could push a sharpened pencil right through the membrane that forms the structure’s outer wall.

“There’s a population there that, frankly, we’ve got to have in something more secure,” Bell said.

The committee opted instead for a $3 million investment into planning for a new state prison, likely a $55 million secure facility for the mentally ill that’s been proposed by the state Corrections Department.

“Something is needed that will cost considerably more and be more secure than a Sprung Structure,” Bell said. “The need is there. It’s just simply ballooning on us.”

The capital budget also includes $1.3 million to fully fund a new 300-bed “pod” at the privately operated Idaho Correctional Center south of Boise. That new pod already had been funded last year with $16 million in state funds, but costs escalated; the extra money will allow the full 300 beds to be completed.

The new $12 million Coeur d’Alene ISP building was the top state building priority identified by the state’s Permanent Building Fund Advisory Council.

JFAC members visited the current Coeur d’Alene ISP office several years ago shortly after state Trooper Linda Huff was shot to death outside the building. “This is important,” Bell said.

In addition to providing a secure facility, the plan calls for pulling together various ISP functions that now are spread around town, costing the state $200,000 a year in rent.

The two nursing education buildings, slated for Lewis-Clark State College and the College of Southern Idaho, will cost a combined $37.1 million.

The successful budget plan, which passed on an 18-1 vote with just Rep. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, objecting, also includes $10 million for a new University of Idaho dairy research facility in the Magic Valley. It would include a 1,500-cow self-supporting dairy and a research center, and would conduct research into such issues as how to resolve environmental problems created by large-scale dairies in Idaho.

Lawmakers passed over several other proposals from the governor, including a $7.7 million new parking garage in Boise; $5.5 million for a storage facility for the state Historical Society; and $7 million for a contingency fund for building projects.

Bell said, “There isn’t anymore money this time.”

Though JFAC has now set all the general-fund budgets for state agencies, several pieces still remain. The budget for the Idaho Transportation Department, which relies on dedicated gas tax funds and other funding sources, has yet to be set, as lawmakers hash out concerns about a bonding program. And none of the budgets that lawmakers set have accounted for Otter’s plans to dissolve two state agencies and divide some of their duties and workers up among other departments.

Senate Finance Chair Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said if those proposals pass the Legislature, the budget committee will reconvene and pass follow-up bills to make those changes in the various agency budgets.

Also on Friday, JFAC set an $8.5 million state budget for the Department of Commerce and Labor, which Otter plans to split into two separate departments. Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, who proposed the successful budget, added $300,000 to continue funding the Tech-Connect program for another year, and covered the costs to split the agencies and have a separate director for each.

Overall, lawmakers appropriated $2.81 billion for next year’s budget, an 8.4 percent increase in general funds over this year. That’s $29.1 million below Otter’s $2.84 billion proposal, which would have been a 9.5 percent increase. But it doesn’t include the $38 million Otter wanted to set aside for an endowment for college scholarships; that legislation currently is bogged down in the House.

House Education Chairman Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, said he pulled the scholarship bill back to his committee because of concerns that the amount may need to be adjusted. “Thirty-eight million is a lot of money – I’m not sure if JFAC has all of that left at this point,” Nonini said.

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