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Eye on Boise: Federal cuts get panel’s attention

Sun., March 3, 2013

BOISE – A blizzard of numbers was presented to legislative budget writers Friday on the potential impact of the federal sequestration cuts on the state.

Overall, it showed a potential cut of $24.8 million in federal funds going to the state in the current federal fiscal year, or 5.3 percent, though Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee budget analyst Jared Tatro warned, “Like everything else … I wouldn’t take (that) … to the bank.”

“We do know that there will be an impact to state government,” Jani Revier, director of Gov. Butch Otter’s Division of Financial Management, told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. But the state may not know the impact before this year’s legislative session is over.

She said in August the governor directed agencies to prepare plans for federal funds to be cut 20 percent, to “get a handle on what types of federal funds agencies are receiving” and how cuts can be managed.

“While there may be a few critical programs” for which the state would want to replace lost federal funds with state general funds, Revier said, “these will be few and far between. … Our agency directors are prepared.”

Said Tatro, “The more we know the less we know, and that’s just kind of how it’s been for the last couple of years.”

“This is a moving target,” said committee Co-chair Dean Cameron, R-Rupert.

Governor, lawmakers get raises

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee set budgets last week for the governor’s office and the legislative branch, and due to statutory requirements, both of those include salary boosts for elected officials in the coming year – something most state employees won’t get.

Specifically, the governor’s salary was required by law to rise from $115,348 to $117,000 on Jan. 1, 2013, and to rise another 1.7 percent on Jan. 1, 2014, to $119,000. The approved budget covers that increase.

For state legislators, a citizens committee voted in June for a 2 percent raise, from $16,116 a year to $16,438. That raise took effect in December and became permanent when the Legislature hadn’t acted to reject it by the 25th day of this year’s legislative session.

The cost of the lawmakers’ base pay increase is $322 per legislator, or $33,810 total. It’s the first raise state lawmakers have received since 2007; in 2009, they rejected the citizens committee recommendation for a 5 percent raise. Two years ago, the panel didn’t recommend raises for lawmakers.

This year, the citizens committee said the 2 percent boost was warranted; it followed lawmakers’ decision last year to grant 2 percent raises to state employees, their first in four years. Legislative budget writers have called on state agencies to find salary savings in their existing budgets to give workers boosts if possible next year, in the absence of funding for raises.

Ballot access change

The Senate State Affairs Committee held a lively hearing Friday on SB 1108, the bill from the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation to make it tougher to qualify initiatives or referendum measures for the Idaho ballot. It’s scheduled to continue on Monday.

The bill would require signatures from 6 percent of voters in 18 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts; current law requires 6 percent of voters statewide.

Farm Bureau lobbyist Russ Hendricks said the organization wants to make sure rural residents have a voice in the process, in addition to residents of urban population centers. “This is not in any way meant to denigrate the voters of this state or their judgment,” Hendricks said. “In fact, we do not view this as excluding anybody. In fact it is including more people. … The proponents go out and talk to more people in more areas of the state, so this is a more inclusive bill.”

Monica Hopkins, executive director of the ACLU of Idaho, countered that the change places a higher value on voting rights of people in rural areas, violating the U.S. Constitution’s one-person, one-vote principle.

Last week, I obtained a report from the Idaho secretary of state’s office showing that had this law been in effect last fall, Propositions 1, 2 and 3 would not have qualified for the November ballot. That report showed the measures met the 6 percent mark in only one legislative district. However, it turns out there was a problem with the data in the report and it was incorrect.

A corrected version shows the measures still would have qualified under the proposed requirement, as they had signatures from more than 6 percent of voters in 29 of the 35 legislative districts. All three propositions were overwhelmingly approved, repealing the 2011 Students Come First school reform laws.

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