More budget cuts in Idaho

BOISE - Idaho’s state budget ax fell again today, as lawmakers trimmed another $20.75 million out of the current year’s state budget.

It was the followup to a call last Friday for state agencies to stop spending anything besides operating funds, including money for equipment purchases and building projects that had been approved but that hadn’t yet been spent.

Among the casualties: The Idaho Historical Society’s plans to expand the state historical museum, which lost its $5 million appropriation for this year; a $3 million sewer system replacement at Farragut State Park, which will be put off; $1.6 million worth of deferred maintenance at the University of Idaho that will get deferred again; $2.3 million for milfoil eradication by the state Department of Agriculture, leaving just $1 million in the budget for that; and about $1 million worth of equipment replacements, mainly vehicles and computers, at the Department of Corrections.

Lawmakers said they hope the additional $20 million in savings can help offset cuts to public schools next year.

Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, the Senate Republican caucus chairman, said GOP senators gathered in a closed caucus Thursday to discuss ways avoid Gov. Butch Otter’s proposed cut in public school funding next year, and, “Quite frankly, we don’t see it. I think the prevailing attitude is we don’t see a way of getting out of this without education being hit, but we are trying to figure out ways to soften the blow.”

Otter’s proposed budget for next year calls for an unprecedented 5.34 percent cut in the public schools budget, trimming about $75 million.

The new budget cuts, which won unanimous support from the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee today, are essentially the equivalent of another holdback, or mid-year budget cut, like the 4 percent cuts ordered by Otter this fall. They still need final approval from both houses of the Legislature. If finalized, they’ll bring the total mid-year cuts in this year’s state budget up to more than $150 million.

Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, who serves on the joint budget committee, said members didn’t want to make the additional cuts. “We didn’t, but we didn’t have a lot of choice,” she said. “They were one-time monies that had not been expended - we’re going to have to find that extra money somewhere.”

She said she’s been a “strong advocate” of the milfoil eradication program, and was sorry to see it lose two-thirds of its appropriation. “If we don’t address it now, it’s going to cost a lot more later,” she said. But, she said, “I understand the need to gather what we can to lessen the impact on schools and Health and Welfare.”

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