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Eye on Boise: Universities get ‘small step’ toward deferred maintenance

Sun., March 10, 2013

BOISE – At the start of this year’s session, Idaho’s legislative budget writers heard a report on deferred maintenance at the state’s public universities, complete with shocking pictures showing rotting window frames, cracked sidewalks, corroded and leaking boilers, and a professor lecturing to a classroom full of students under a water-stained ceiling. Altogether, the University of Idaho, Idaho State University, Boise State University and Lewis-Clark State College reported roughly $700 million worth of deferred maintenance needs.

Now, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee has identified $12.5 million in the state’s Permanent Building Fund to make a start on addressing those building alterations and repairs at the universities.

The money is available from cigarette tax funds that would normally go to repaying the Capitol renovation bonds and funding the school bond levy equalization program next year. Here’s why: The cost of the Capitol renovation came in lower than expected, reducing the fiscal year 2014 bond payment; and fewer funds are required for the bond levy equalization program next year, partly because lottery proceeds for that program came in much higher than expected.

The joint committee approved the appropriation Friday on a unanimous vote. It was the last item taken up as the panel completed the three-week process of setting state agency budgets.

“I think we’ve all known that there was a level of deferred maintenance,” said committee co-Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. “We just didn’t know how bad it was.”

The University of Idaho emphasized the problem when committee members were there for a tour in the fall, and budget analysts worked with all the universities to put together the report.

“Given the constraints on the budget, given the constraints of other issues at play in this Legislature, we thought this was the best approach we could take,” Cameron said. “We’re grateful that we’re able to take one small step forward.”

Under the appropriation, the state’s three major universities – Boise State, Idaho State and the University of Idaho – would each get $3.75 million to address their deferred maintenance needs, and Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston would get $1.25 million.

It was the final budget-setting decision made by the committee. All told, $2.779 billion was appropriated to state agencies for next year in state general funds, a 2.8 percent increase over this year but below the 3 percent increase Gov. Butch Otter had recommended.

Two tax-cut bills on tap

Two competing bills to give Idaho businesses relief on the personal property tax they pay on business equipment are up for discussion Tuesday in the House’s tax committee. The first, introduced by the Idaho Association of Counties, would simply put into effect a never-implemented 2008 law that would exempt 90 percent of Idaho’s businesses from the tax by exempting the first $100,000 of personal property in each county for all taxpayers. The price tag to the state: $18 million to $19 million a year.

The second, proposed by the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, which represents the state’s largest businesses, would phase out the tax entirely over seven years. Price tag: $120 million a year.

House Tax Chairman Gary Collins, R-Nampa, said no vote is planned for Tuesday.

Child support, food stamps

Though state law requires people on food stamps to cooperate with the Department of Health and Welfare’s child support services office to ensure that child-support payments are made to noncustodial parents, state budget cuts in 2010 eliminated the staff that enforced that rule.

In the budget for the Division of Welfare set by the Legislature’s joint budget committee on Friday, that funding is restored next year, to the tune of $146,800 in state general funds and an equal amount in federal matching funds. That $293,600 allows five vacant positions to be restaffed and enforcement to resume.

The Welfare Division budget includes all the eligibility determinations for Health and Welfare programs, including Medicaid and food stamps. The budget for the division next year crafted by Sens. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, and Rep. Thyra Stevenson, R-Lewiston, shows a 4.8 percent increase in state general funds and a 3.8 percent increase in overall funds.

It was approved on a 17-1 vote, with only Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, dissenting. She said, “I just want to say that morally I cannot fund a budget which complies with implementing the Affordable Care Act.”

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