BOISE - Idaho lawmakers adopted a state revenue forecast Wednesday that’s $69 million below the governor’s estimate for the current year, and $59 million under what he’s proposed spending next year.
What that means: If the new figure approved Wednesday by a joint legislative committee is used to set the state budget, lawmakers will have to make millions more in cuts both in the current year’s state budget and in next year’s, beyond those already proposed by Gov. Butch Otter. Current plans already call for deep, unprecedented cuts to public schools, higher education and health and welfare programs.
“Doom prevailed over gloom, that’s my view,” said House Minority Caucus Chairman Bill Killen, D-Boise.
Senate Education Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, co-chairman of the joint revenue panel, joined four Democrats, including Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene, in opposing the successful motion, which passed 13-5.
“Our task is a daunting one,” Goedde told the panel. “Any underestimating of revenue is going to mean we’re going to cut programs in education and in Health and Welfare, and we’ll have money in the bank maybe at the end of the year, but that’s not going to help the people that we’ve denied services. So we’ve got to find a realistic number.”
But his favored plan - with cuts far less deep - was voted down on a 7-11 vote.
Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, voted against the first three proposals, including one nearly identical to the successful one; the earlier version died on a tied vote. Keough said she decided to support the final version to avoid even deeper cuts proposed by House Majority Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, which would have forced $120 million more in cuts from the state budget this year.
Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, had similar reasoning. “I could see where things were going, and they were going to an even more conservative number, and so I was trying to salvage what I could get,” he said.
The joint revenue committee’s recommendation now goes to the Legislature’s joint budget committee, but that panel isn’t bound to follow it. It sends a strong signal, however, that lawmakers plan to cut the state budget even beyond what Otter’s proposed.
GOP leaders from both houses led the charge to slash the numbers. “We do not have the luxury this year of missing it like we did last year,” said House Assistant Majority Leader Scott Bedke, R-Oakley. “I think we need more cushion … because of the no-safety-net nature of our situation as opposed to last year.”