BOISE • A bill asking for $2 million to kill up to 500 of Idaho’s wolves won’t get even half of its requested appropriation, said co-chair of the state’s budget committee.
Instead, an unexpected bailout to make up for missing federal e-rate funds to pay for the Idaho Education Network (IEN) broadband program has taken precedence, said state Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, co-chair of the Joint Finance Appropriations Committee.
“We have some flexibility when it comes to killing wolves,” Bell said. “We don’t have flexibility with IEN.”
JFAC has already approved $6.6 million out of this year’s budget to make up for past-due payments to Education Networks of America, the state’s contractor on the broadband project. It’s money the federal government was supposed to pay for the state’s school broadband program but never did.
The supplemental appropriations bill passed both houses and now just needs the signature of the governor.
“Frankly, based on our discussions with legal counsel, we are obligated for this piece,” said state Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, while debating the bill on the Senate floor. “I need to inform you that this is the first half. The second half we are still arguing and discussing and re-discussing what we do for fiscal year 2015.”
Ever since the news was announced earlier this session, multiple lawmakers expressed their frustration with the state’s Department of Administration for extending the contract with the Education Networks of America through 2019 without informing lawmakers that the broadband vendor was not receiving the federal e-rate payments.
JFAC is expected to discuss the future of IEN next week, which includes a $7.3 million request from Otter and the Department of Administration to cover the federal payments for fiscal year 2015, Bell said.
This means that the wolf bill will also be discussed next week, Bell said, but it won’t get the requested $2 million.
“It will probably get less than $1 million or closer to the $400,000 that was requested last year,” she said.
Bell was referring to a recommendation a committee submitted to Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter last summer on how to fund ongoing wolf control efforts. The recommendation asked for $400,000 annually for five years to kill wolves that preyed on livestock.
Instead, Otter ignored the recommendation and requested $2 million of one-time funding to kill wolves during his State of the State speech in January.
The proposed wolf control bill — sponsored by state Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson — calls for a five-member oversight board that would manage the requested $2 million. The members would be made up of directors from the state Department of Fish and Game and Department of Agriculture, as well representatives from livestock industry, public at large and sportsmen.
Even if the bill makes it to the governor’s desk, it is up to JFAC to determine the final funding amount, Bell said. Budget writers will also decide if the money should come out of one-time or ongoing funds.
“We weren’t expecting to pay this much to IEN ... it’s forced us to change a few things,” Bell said.