January 15, 2009 in Idaho

Idaho’s latest spending cuts closer to becoming permanent

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The Idaho Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee voted unanimously this morning to make permanent Gov. Butch Otter’s 4 percent holdbacks in this year’s state budget.

“We find ourselves in this situation,” said Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. “I guess we can only hope and pray that it doesn’t get worse before it gets better.”

A single bill, which now must pass both houses, amends the budget for agencies across state government to reflect the midyear cutback. “Our action is necessary in order to make sure that we meet the Constitution, and balance our budget as required by the Constitution,” Cameron said.

The joint budget committee also voted unanimously to trim health insurance costs by using more from health insurance reserves; that decision doesn’t change benefits to employees.

“It does not affect their benefits at all, it’s only a calculation as to the cost of those benefits,” Cameron said.

That change, the budget revisions and various fund transfers all will go into one omnibus bill that makes the holdbacks permanent. It must pass both houses and receive the governor’s signature to become law.

Earlier, in perhaps the easiest savings lawmakers will make in this year’s budget, the committee voted unanimously in favor of the governor’s recommendation to put off paying for fire suppression costs until after the end of the fiscal year each year, when the actual amount of the bills is known.

That saves an estimated $10 million in this year’s budget, though the bills still will be paid. They’ll just be paid out of the following year’s budget.

“That way, instead of trying to guess what the costs will be halfway through the fiscal year, the Legislature would wait … and appropriate the actual amount,” explained legislative budget analyst Ray Houston.

The move is similar to one the Legislature made several years ago for agricultural pest control deficiency warrants and hazardous materials cleanup payments; it includes a policy change to make the new approach permanent.

Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, moved to approve the governor’s recommendation; Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, seconded the motion; and it passed unanimously with no discussion. This is the one accounting change contained in the governor’s budget proposal that results in a major change in the numbers; other savings will be more difficult.


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