January 21, 2010 in Idaho

Revenue estimate could deepen Idaho budget cuts

Otter sought $59 million more in state spending
By The Spokesman-Review

On the Web: Read news from Boise

at spokesman.com/ blogs/ boise.

BOISE – Idaho lawmakers might have to make millions of dollars in additional cuts to both the current-year state budget and to next year’s if a new state revenue forecast is used to set the state budget.

A joint legislative committee adopted a revenue forecast Wednesday that’s $69 million below the governor’s estimate for the current year and $59 million less than what he’s proposed spending next year.

Gov. Butch Otter has already proposed deep, unprecedented cuts to public schools, higher education and health and welfare programs using the higher revenue figures.

“Doom prevailed over gloom – that’s my view,” said House Minority Caucus Chairman Bill Killen, D-Boise.

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 has proposed.

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 motion to adopt the revenue forecast, 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 considerably less deep – was voted down on a 7-11 vote.

Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, 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.

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.”

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