Among other agency budgets set in the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee this morning:
* In the special programs budget for the state Board of Education, lawmakers backed Gov. Butch Otter’s recommendation to add staff at the Small Business Development Center (equivalent of four positions) and the Forest Utilization Research, or FUR, program (a forest research economist and a rangeland resource management analyst), but not fund a request from the Idaho Geological Survey for a landslide hazard researcher. Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, proposed funding the landslide research position, noting that Idaho has no one doing such research and major, damaging landslides have been occurring throughout the region. Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said, “What it does do is provide the data.” But Rep. Marc Gibbs, R-Grace, said, “I don’t think the position is going to stop the landslides.” Keough’s motion failed on a 9-11 vote.
* For Idaho’s Office of Species Conservation budget, JFAC agreed with Otter’s recommendation, which includes a $500,000, one-time boost in funding for sage grouse conservation, as the state ramps up efforts to prevent the sage grouse from being listed as an endangered species. “We would likely lose the ability to graze those lands” if the bird were listed, warned Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot; he said that would pose “grave danger” to Idaho’s livestock industry.
* The Idaho Department of Fish & Game was approved for a budget that actually shows a small decrease from the current year; the department gets no state general tax funds. JFAC followed Otter’s recommendation to nix requests to replace 26 vehicles, and cut in half his recommended funding for health insurance costs for long-term seasonal employees.