Lawmakers Worry over $2.7 Billion Budget

2012-09-25T02:00:00Z Lawmakers Worry over $2.7 Billion BudgetBy Melissa Davlin mdavlin@magicvalley.com Twin Falls Times-News
September 25, 2012 2:00 am  • 

BURLEY • The 2013 Idaho Legislature hasn’t yet convened, but lawmakers are already thinking about the continuing costs to run the state.

On Monday, legislators met in Burley for an interim meeting of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. At the meeting, JFAC members heard updates on agency requests for fiscal year 2014, as well as revenue projections.

Here are some highlights:

Growth Projection

Guessing the future is tricky business, but in order to set the state budget lawmakers must guess how much revenue will come in. The current hypothetical for fiscal year 2014:about $2.7 billion, almost $100 million more than 2013.

A State on Fire

With an active fire season comes a hefty firefighting bill. The most expensive: Trinity Ridge, Mustang Complex and Halstead fires. While some of that is covered by federal funds, budget analyst Ray Houston suggested the committee plan to pay at least $11.2 million of the state’s money for the costs of quelling the flames.

Prison overcrowding

The state’s inmate population rose at a higher rate last year than in previous years, and that trend is expected to continue. The state’s institutions for male prisoners are at 95 percent capacity, and the women’s facilities are at 99 percent.

Lowe lawsuit

The costs for the state’s settlement for former Idaho TransportationDepartment Director Pamela Lowe total $1.3 million. Lowe, who claimed the state fired her without cause, will receive $562,500 over the next 10 years. In addition to Lowe’s settlement, the state must pay attorney fees: $614,647 for the state’s attorney and $187,500 for Lowe’s attorney. Lawmakers asked why the state’s attorney charged more than Lowe’s, and were told despite the high cost, the lawyer charged the state a lower rate than normal.

More line item requests

State agencies have already put in their budget requests for fiscal year 2014.

Between those requests and other budget items, agencies are asking for $169 million more than the state’s projected revenue.

While most state agencies have been restrained in their budget requests during the economic downturn, there are now real needs that must be addressed, said budget analyst Cathy Holland-Smith.

Asking doesn’t always lead to receiving, but the requests give legislators a chance to strategically plan how to spend money, Holland-Smith said.

“Obviously, all requests can’t be funded. That’s not a realistic expectation,”she said. “But what will be the path forward?”

Improvements for Idaho’s prisoners

In May, the Idaho Department of Corrections reached an agreement on part of a 31-year-old lawsuit regarding conditions in Idaho’s prisons. As a result of that agreement, IDOC is requesting $1.7 million in funding to improve medical and mental health treatment for inmates. That amount includes adding 22 state and contract staff.

Today, JFAC meets at theCollege of Southern Idaho, where the committee will hear presentations on Idaho’s community colleges, Idaho Education Network, Medicaid Readiness and other state programs. This afternoon, the legislators tour theChobani factory.

Copyright 2015 Twin Falls Times-News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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