March 14, 2009 in Idaho

Legislators vote to use stimulus to save jobs

Budget target could reduce school cuts in Idaho
Betsy Z. Russell Staff writer
 

BOISE – Idaho lawmakers voted Friday to set a budget target for next year even lower than Gov. Butch Otter is now recommending but use more of the federal stimulus money than he recommended to try to save state jobs.

Lawmakers still must set budgets for every state agency, but all the budgets must fit within the target.

The new target, in combination with spending more of the stimulus money, could enable lawmakers to set a budget for next year that cuts public schools by 3.4 percent, rather than the governor’s recommended 6.3 percent. It also could mean a statewide personnel cutback of roughly 3 percent, rather than the 5 percent that Otter favors.

However, it would cut into part or all of the $45 million in stimulus money that Otter wanted to direct into a $15 million boost in the state’s drinking and clean water loan funds and $30 million in additional road projects beyond those already identified. Instead, that money would be used to help balance the state budget, including items the governor proposed funding, and to offset the proposed personnel cuts.

Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said he applauds the governor for wanting to create jobs with that money through construction projects, but said he was surprised the governor wanted to spend the entire $45 million that way.

“Those jobs are important, but we also need the existing jobs that we have,” Cameron said.

The Legislature’s joint budget committee approved the new spending target of $2.5 billion on a 19-1 vote after a two-hour debate.

The spending target that lawmakers set largely differs from the governor’s in how it would make use of federal stimulus funds; Otter said Thursday he wanted to bank half of the money that’s coming for public schools against future economic downturns. Lawmakers instead would spend $40 million of that on public schools next year.

The Legislature’s new budget target is $42.3 million below the governor’s latest adjusted revenue target for fiscal year 2010 and about $50 million below the figure the same committee set a month ago, before the stimulus bill passed.

The sole “no” vote came from Rep. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, who earlier said she wasn’t ready to vote. “I feel so uneasy being asked to make a decision like that today with all this information being thrown at me,” McGeachin said.

But state Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, said, “We do have to move on and get things done, or we’ll be here ’til Christmas. …. We have to make decisions, and those decisions will have repercussions.”

State Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, said, “We have had reason after reason to put that off. We need to get done and get out of here, and the first thing we need to do is set that revenue number.”

Betsy Z. Russell can be reached toll-free at (866) 336-2854 or bzrussell@gmail.com. For more news from Boise go to www.spokesman.com/boise.


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