January 16, 2011 in Idaho

Idaho troopers doing duties with 1977 staffing level

By The Spokesman-Review
 

BOISE – There are the same number of Idaho State Police troopers patrolling the state’s roads now as there were in 1977, Idaho lawmakers learned last week, even though the state’s population has swelled 75 percent since then.

Col. Jerry Russell, ISP chief, told lawmakers that of his current patrol force of 150 authorized positions, six are investigators, and there are 33 vacancies.

Nine positions are being held vacant due to budget cuts; seven officers are gone on military leave; and he has “11 that I hope to fill in this fiscal year” Russell said.

The cost to fill one of those positions is about $55,000 a year, Russell said, but “startup costs,” such as training, uniforms and equipment, is “substantial.” Plus, he said, the vacancies mean bigger overtime costs, “because somebody has to respond out there when there’s that call for service, that fatal accident takes place or whatever. So it affects service and it also impacts the financial health.”

Six detective positions also are being held vacant in the investigations division. Russell said ISP’s seen a 44.3 percent reduction in its state funding since fiscal year 2009.

New power couple

The Idaho Legislature has a new power couple: Dick and Carole Harwood. Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, is a sixth-term District 2 representative. As the legislative session opened last week, his wife, Carole, was serving in the House chamber too, filling in for newly elected District 2 Rep. Shannon McMillan, R-Kellogg, whose husband is ill.

“Maybe we set a record,” Carole Harwood said with a smile, as spouses serving in the House representing the same district.

She said McMillan called her to ask her to sub just the day before the session started. “As I was leaving the house, I got a call,” Carole Harwood said. “I’m available as long as she needs me.”

Carole Harwood hasn’t held elective office before, other than a stint as Republican Party chairwoman for Benewah County. She’s now the treasurer.

Backing governor’s number

The joint legislative committee that sets the revenue forecast for the session, a starting point for setting budgets, voted late last week to adopt Gov. Butch Otter’s recommendation of 4.2 percent tax revenue growth in the current year, and 3 percent in fiscal year 2012. That’s despite state economists’ forecasts that tax revenue actually will grow by 6.9 percent in 2012.

Since 1999, the joint revenue committee’s estimate has matched the governor’s Division of Financial Management revenue forecast every year but the past two. In both of the past two years, the committee has set its projection lower than the governor’s, forcing deeper budget cuts than he recommended.

Energy credit up

For the past five years, developers of geothermal, solar or wind power generation facilities have gotten a rebate from the state for the sales tax they pay on the major, permanent equipment that goes into their plants, but the tax credit will expire in June. Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, wants to extend it.

“If we don’t have the rebate … it will preclude development of wind energy in Idaho, because other states are more competitive,” Eskridge said.

A Boise State University study is in the works to look at the economic benefit of the rebate in the five years it’s been in effect. Eskridge said the rebate has meant about $3 million to $4 million in lost state tax revenue, but has generated much more than that in property taxes and other economic activity in the state. “That’s what this study will show, those kinds of results,” he said.

Gov’s money-saver

As part of efforts to cope with the budget crunch, Idaho’s governor’s office has eliminated pay for interns, reports Gov. Butch Otter’s budget chief, Wayne Hammon.

Funded, but just once

Hammon said the governor’s proposed budget funds water quality monitoring in the Department of Environmental Quality in 2012 – something that’s gone unfunded the past two years – but it’s funded on a one-time basis through a fund shift. Hammon said the department is “very concerned” about where that leaves the program in 2013, “and so are we.”


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