Idaho schools budget delay was unnecessary
Press-Tribune Editorial board
March 31, 2013
There's only one thing the Idaho Legislature is obligated to do, and that is pass a budget. That's it.
Idaho didn't have to tackle the issue of cursive writing, but it did anyway. Lawmakers didn't have to deal with the sexual content on prime-time network television, but they did, anyway.
Our legislators had time to spend creating knee-jerk gun rights legislation with no real substance or practical value - then ended up killing it in an angry spat between House and Senate chambers.
Yet despite the fact they were able to work up the energy for these and many more things they weren't legally obligated to do, they somehow couldn't find the time to do the one thing they had to do - pass a budget.
By far the biggest single piece of the state's general fund pie is the budget for public education, which is just shy of half the money state taxpayers submit each year. We're talking $1.3 billion here. Not exactly chump change. It's the single, most important thing legislators are tasked with doing.
It has been common knowledge that the House and Senate had different takes on how the state's public education money should be dispersed. Some senators said too much of it went to teacher pay and not enough was left for building maintenance.
That's not a complicated discrepancy. It's easy and straightforward. All you have to do is sit down and come up with a compromise acceptable to both the House and Senate - how much will go to teacher pay, how much will go to maintenance.
The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee is well-respected. It's a frugal and thorough group of lawmakers who know what they're doing. They issued their recommended spending plan on March 4. That gave lawmakers three weeks to vet it and reach a final approval both chambers could endorse.
The House passed the original budget by a 52-16 vote March 22, but it failed in the Senate 18-17. All four of Canyon County's senators voted in favor of the budget, and all of our representatives except for Caldwell freshman Brandon Hixon supported it. Hixon voted no for several reasons.
It's hard to argue against giving hard-working teachers much-deserved pay raises. It's also hard to argue with setting aside adequate revenue for building maintenance. It's refreshing to see that budget writers are confident enough in the state's economy to recommend spending increases in education after years of cuts. None of the lawmakers involved here believes that spending on schools shouldn't be increased.
There's another factor at play here. There's also a bit of a turf war going on between fellow Republicans - Senate Education Chairman John Goedde of Coeur d' Alene and JFAC co-chairman Sen. Dean Cameron of Rupert. Goedde believes Cameron has overstepped his bounds.
Specifically, Goedde says budget writers don't give the committees that vet specific legislation - in this case education issues - enough time to vet the details of such massive budgets.
These people have to find a more efficient way of getting things done. This wouldn't be accepted in the business world, and since lawmakers work for us, we shouldn't accept it from them, either.
Some are speculating that this fracture and split vote could delay the legislative session up to 10 days. Given that each day of the session costs taxpayers an estimated $30,000, that's an expensive delay. And it's entirely unnecessary. Better communication could - and should - have averted this mess.
The Legislature needs to do its job. Put the egos aside, start communicating responsibly and figure out how to distribute our modest schools budget.
The editorial posted here is provided by permission of its original publisher and does not necessarily reflect the views of Idaho Public Television.
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