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Eye On Boise

JFAC makes its first spending decisions; new members busy learning the ropes…

The budget-writing Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee approved a dozen supplemental appropriations this morning, all unanimously except for one – the request from the Idaho State Historical Society for an additional $1 million from the general fund to tide it over on construction of the new exhibits for the state historical museum while it awaits the arrival of privately raised funds. That one was approved on a 15-4 vote.

Rep. Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay, was among the four “no’s.” Dixon said he just wasn’t comfortable with the assurances that the state would be paid back first, as other money was raised. “I love the Historical Society, and that was hard,” he said of his vote. If the funds aren’t needed by June 30, 2018, the Historical Society will revert them back to the general fund. But they need them as cash on hand to sign a contract in early February, while they await the arrival of private donations and federal grant funds later in the year.

“We have 14 months left on our capital campaign,” Historical Society Director Janet Gallimore told JFAC. “Our Foundation for Idaho History feels comfortable that we will raise this money, so the issue is really timing. … It is a timing issue to be sure we have the proper legal authority to go into this change order to go to build.”

Dixon, a new member of JFAC, said he’s enjoying serving on the budget-writing committee so far. “I love playing with numbers and just the depth of knowledge that I’ll get about the state in general,” he said.

The second-term state representative said he was so busy with his new JFAC duties that he wasn’t aware of what was happening with the other representative from his district, Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, who yesterday was stripped of all her committee assignments in the House over her comments and behavior toward other members. “Oddly enough, I was completely unaware of what was going on,” he said.

“I’d just say it was unfortunate, the way a lot of things have been handled,” Dixon said. “Hopefully we can clean it up and respect each other some more.”

Other supplemental appropriations approved by the joint budget committee this morning included a $2.2 million request from Secretary of State Lawerence Denney to launch an 18-month project to upgrade the IT system for business entities, which handles corporate filings, Uniform Commercial Code notices, notaries, trademarks and more. The current system dates back to 2005. JFAC members grilled Denney about the need for the upgrade and why he was requesting it now, rather than waiting for next year’s budget.  

“It is critical to us,” Denney responded. “We only have one person in our IT department that knows the old system, and they’re really not teaching that old system any more.” Despite all the questions, the funding won unanimous support from the joint committee. Rep. Rick Youngblood, R-Nampa, moved for approval and Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene, seconded the motion. “I appreciate the discussion,” Youngblood said, “and I believe it’s critical we welcome our secretary’s IT system into the 21st century.”

Other spending from the current year’s budget approved by JFAC today included $13.8 million in mostly federal highway funds that the Idaho Transportation Department has received and wants to spend in the current year; another $11 million being transferred to ITD from the 2015 “surplus eliminator” bill, which will be spent on seven bridge construction projects around the state; and a request from the Public Defense Commission to shift $100,000 to operating expenditures within its budget to cover a public defender workload study, for which it will contract with the Idaho Policy Institute at Boise State University.

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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