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Eye On Boise

Budgets being set with pieces missing, to await ‘trailer’ bills…

The budget for the Office of the State Board of Education was set by JFAC this morning without addressing the governor’s recommendation for $5 million in startup funds for a new community college in eastern Idaho, should voters there approve one. That’s because the bill addressing that just passed the House on Tuesday, and hasn’t yet been addressed in the Senate. If it passes, the joint budget committee would come back with a “trailer” appropriation bill to follow the policy bill, filling in the funding.

It’s one of an array of education-related issues that are getting that treatment this year, because key pieces of education policy still are pending in the Legislature, and it’s budget-setting time. There was another one this morning in the budget for the Division of Building Safety. That budget was set on a 19-0 vote, but it doesn’t include the governor’s recommendation to set up a new Office of School Safety and Security, at a cost of $270,000. Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, who proposed the successful budget for the division, is the sponsor of the school safety office bill, HB 514; it hasn’t yet cleared the House Education Committee.

This approach will have its biggest impact on Monday when JFAC sets the public schools budget. Major pieces of Gov. Butch Otter’s education proposals are still working their way through the Legislature, including a $10.7 million early literacy initiative and a $3 million proposal to deal with funding when students move from one district to another; that means JFAC won’t include them when it sets the overall public school budget on Monday. As a result, Monday’s action may be on a considerably smaller increase than schools actually will get after trailer bills are addressed.

Horman, who is working on the school budget, is worried about that. “I don’t want educators to think the commitment isn’t there, because I believe it is,” she said. “But because of these other items, the numbers are not going to look like the governor’s recommendation or the superintendent’s request.”

Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, and Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, the JFAC co-chairs, say they have little choice but to take this approach. “It’s troubling to me, but how long would I have to wait to get all the pieces?” Bell asked. “We’re finishing the 7th week, and we’ve been told over and over that this session will be over by the end of March.”

The same factor is at play in other budgets as well, with legislation involving everything from scholarships to college tuition still hanging fire elsewhere in the Legislature. “We have to set the budget with what we know,” Keough said. She noted that the budget committee tries to avoid “getting out in front of the policy committees.”

Said Bell, “It’s kind of like the tortoise and the hare, and I suppose we’re the hare. I don’t like this, but frankly I don’t see any other way to do it.”

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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