Idaho budget blueprint: 8.5% cut for schools

Betsy Z. Russell
February 25, 2010
Spokane Spokesman-Review

BOISE - The Idaho Legislature's leading budget-setters laid all their cards on the table Thursday, laying out to the 20-member joint budget committee and the public the tentative plan they've worked up to balance next year's budget with far less money that Idaho had this year.

The result: Schools would see an unprecedented 8.5 percent cut in state funding; higher education funding would drop 14 percent; and Medicaid would drop 3.5 percent, for a 25.9 percent drop in state Medicaid funding over the past two years.

The biggest single piece of Idaho's state budget - funding for K-12 public schools - would fall to $1.214 billion next year, from $1.231 billion this year and $1.419 billion last year. The joint committee is scheduled to set the school budget on Monday.

"I think 8.5 percent, while it's drastic, it's a lot better than it could have been," said Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, a member of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.

Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said an agreement has been reached with all education stakeholders, including state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna, on which line items to fund in the public schools budget to fit it into a target of $1.214 billion for next year, and which to leave flexible for local school officials.

"Now obviously that doesn't stop any of you from making a motion that's either higher or lower than that 1.214 billion," Cameron told the joint committee.

The budget blueprint, which the co-chairs of JFAC, their staff, other lawmakers and stakeholders have been working on for weeks, shifts reserve funds, taps benefit reserves to fund state employee benefits, and makes deep cuts in all programs, including Medicaid and public schools. It eliminates virtually all proposals for new programs or expansions, cuts inflationary adjustments to zero, and removes all funding for Medicaid pricing increases that aren't mandated by federal guidelines.

Wherever possible, the plan taps into balances in dedicated funds from fees, grants or other revenue sources to keep state funding cuts from going deeper. At Idaho Public Television, for example, a newly obtained $97,000 federal grant is used to offset part of a $269,300 cut in state funding.

Legislative budget director Cathy Holland-Smith cautioned that it's "not a finished product," and said, "The environment that we're in right now we have never experienced before."

Cameron called it "a very somber budget."

Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, the Senate finance vice-chair, said, "It remains to be seen how we'll actually build the budget, but it's clearer where we're starting from."

She commended the decision to unveil the plan in advance of budget-setting. "I think it's reflective of the co-chairs' leadership and desire to be totally up-front and solicitous of input from everyone, as we go down together on this budget," she said. "There's a committed effort to try to work for the best given the circumstances."


Originally posted at http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2010/feb/25/idaho-budget-blueprint-85-cut-schools/

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