Sunday, February 22, 2015

Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy: The Governor's Budget Doesn't Balance

Posted By on Sun, Feb 22, 2015 at 9:26 AM

At first glance, the governor's proposed fiscal year 2016 executive budget looks pretty good. It pencils out with a balance of more than $3 million, but the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy did some additional math and came up with a much different sum: the state faces a possible $320 million shortfall. 

In its analysis, the center found that the governor's proposed budget does not factor in the cost of pending fire suppression, expected to run to $27.7 million, nor does does it anticipate liabilities from the cancelled Idaho Education Network contract rising above $6.7 million.

The analysis points out that costs associated with the failed IEN contract, which was jettisoned following a judge's ruling that it had been improperly awarded, could rise to $13 million in order to replace prior years' federal funding. What's more, should aggrieved broadband Internet provider Syringa sue the state over the contract, the analysis suggests the company's claims could be as high as $22 million.

If that money is pulled from the general fund, it will take from other programs like education and public employee compensation, as well as roads and bridges.

While Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter stressed the need for more education spending in his State of the State address, it appears that commitment falls short in the 2016 budget proposal. The proposed budget raises school funding by 7.4 percent, or $101 million—less than a third of the $352 million recommended by the Governor's Task Force for Improving Education to restore basic funding. 

Higher education also did not "fare nearly as well" in the budget proposal, according to the analysis. While colleges and universities asked for a 19.4 percent increase in funding, they received a 3 percent increase. Community colleges, which requested an increase of 13.1 percent, would receive a boost of 1.5 percent instead.

The budget doesn't make room for a reduction in the gap between what state workers earn and market wages. The center's analysis states that one out of five state employees make less than $20,000 a year, and more than half make less than $40,000. That's 20 percent less than the market rate. There is no extra revenue in the state to begin closing this gap, however. 

Funding from roads and bridges has always come from gas taxes and vehicle registration fees, but the analysis found that level of funding hasn't kept up with maintenance needs. If that money also comes from the general fund, education funding loses out again.

The Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy did state that there are available dollars to help the state balance its proposed budget. If the governor foregoes the first year of proposed $17.8 million in tax cuts and accepts the $33.9 million in savings by using federal dollars for the Healthy Idaho Plan, the budget would have a positive ending balance of as much as $27 million. 

Read the full analysis here: 

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Saturday, February 7, 2015

Tonight's Powerball Jackpot Continues to Climb, But Idaho Lottery Officials Decry Lousy Overall Sales

Posted By on Sat, Feb 7, 2015 at 8:47 AM

The day before one of the largest Powerball jackpots in history, lottery officials told Idaho lawmakers Feb. 6 that they may see a $10 million shortfall in ticket sales during the current fiscal year.

Idaho State Lottery Director Jeff Anderson stood before the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee on Friday in his annual presentation to the Legislature's budget-writing committee. According to the Associated Press, Anderson said all indications are that his department would not be able to hit this year's target of $220 million in ticket sales. 

But a succession of major jackpots could change some of that. In 2013, Anderson told Boise Weekly, "In the lottery business, we have a saying: drivers drive golf ball; drivers drive buses; jackpots drive lottery sales."

Meanwhile, Saturday's Powerball jackpot has climbed to $380 million-plus, already the sixth largest jackpot in that game's history. The $2 Powerball is played in 43 states, including Idaho; the District of Columbia; Puerto Rico; and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
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Friday, December 2, 2011

Boise Police, Fire Unions Waive Raises, Save $1.275 Million

Posted By on Fri, Dec 2, 2011 at 3:55 PM

Unions representing Boise Police and Fire departments have agreed to forgo previously negotiated cost-of-living raises in Fiscal Year 2013, saving the city a total of $1.275 million. The freeze is also expected to maintain staffing at current levels, with no need for layoffs.

"Officers are often called upon to handle difficult situations," Boise Police Local 486 President Guy Bourgeau said. "This agreement is an example of how the collective-bargaining process can work to help get us all through these difficult times."

Other changes to the union agreements included adjustments in how unused sick leave and vacation time are managed by the city.

"I thank (the unions) for their assistance," said Mayor Dave Bieter. "This agreement is a shining example of how city governments and public-safety unions can work together to solve difficult problems."

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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Potential Shutdown Looms for Federal Agencies

Posted By on Wed, Apr 6, 2011 at 3:24 PM

U.S. lawmakers are playing "beat the clock" in an effort to avert a possible weekend shutdown of federal offices and services. Meetings at the White House and on Capitol Hill have yet to yield any kind of a breakthrough to reach a 2011 spending compromise.

No accord could result in the closure of U.S. agencies for the first time in 15 years, though Idaho senior U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo said there are few similarities with the last shutdown during the Clinton administration.

"Back in 1995, there was a different, and quite frankly, a less flexible approach to this type of stalemate," Crapo told Citydesk."This year, there are greater understandings of how we would have to pause some governmental functions while we resolve these issues."

But freshman Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador was less conciliatory.

"The president and Democrat leadership in the Senate have done nothing to show any desire to do what is necessary to fix our economy and put people back to work," said Labrador.

Meanwhile, the American Federation of Government Employees scheduled informational pickets outside of federal agencies across the United States on Wednesday, protesting the potential shutdown. Only two showed up for an informational picket outside the Boise Social Security office.

[ Video is no longer available. ]

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

State Revenues $16 Million Ahead of Plan

Posted By on Tue, Mar 8, 2011 at 9:29 AM

There's a glimmer of optimism in Idaho's most recent report of general fund revenue.

The monthly survey indicated that income from individual income tax is nearly $45 million above projections. The lion's share of the surplus is expected to go back to Idahoans in the form of tax refunds, but state economists still project that Idaho is approximately $16 million ahead of plan year to date and $80 million ahead of where Idaho stood at this time last year.

More good news: corporate income tax revenues are nearly $10 million ahead of forecast. Read the full revenue report from Idaho's Division of Financial Management.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Bloomberg Report Shows Obama Budget Closed Deficit by 13 Percent

Posted By on Wed, Sep 15, 2010 at 1:45 PM

The Republicans hate it. The Tea Party hates it even more. But a new report from Bloomberg shows that the budget and spending passed by Obama and the Democrats has closed the gap between spending and revenue by 13 percent.

From the report...

The excess of spending over revenue totaled $90.5 billion last month, smaller than the median forecast of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News and down 13 percent from $103.6 billion in August 2009, according to a Treasury Department report issued today in Washington. The gap for the fiscal year that started in October was $1.26 trillion compared with $1.37 trillion last year at the same time.

Though both the budget and deficit are still at record highs, this report seems to stand in stark contrast to the opposition's rhetoric going into November elections that the Democratic budget and agenda will deepen the deficit and engender more financial troubles.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

IdahoPTV Not Answering the Phone this Afternoon

Posted By on Mon, Jan 11, 2010 at 4:43 PM

I just called Peter Morrill, director of Idaho Public Television, to discuss Gov. Otter's four-year plan to phase out state funding for the agency and got this message:

We are unable to personally answer your telephone call at this moment due to the fact that our staff is in a staff meeting to discuss the governor’s recommendation to cut funds for Idaho Public Television.

We'll talk to Morrill later on, but we asked Otter at his post-SOS press conference if he and First Lady Lori Otter were supporters of public television. He was not sure, but Lori Otter confirmed that they are not members of Idaho PTV, and she said they do not watch the station either.

Gov. Otter said: "I think it has a lot of value but I also think it has a lot of constituency that's willing to support it."

Morrill told NewWest.net (before going into his staff meeting) that they do have a lot of member funding, but that 82 percent of contributions come from Southwest Idaho, so in the absence of state support, that is where their focus would become.

“We’re not going to be dramatically cutting and still have a statewide system,” Morrill told NewWest.

As for the numbers, Otter is recommending a 27 percent reduction ($409,700) to IdahoPTV's state support this year and for the following three years. Morrill also told NewWest.net that the loss of state funds could affect some federal grants, costing the station even more.

Otter is also asking lawmakers to phase out state support for the Hispanic, Independent Living, Developmental Disabilities, Deaf and Hard of Hearing and Human Rights commissions, and told reporters that the commissions have already begun consolidation. They plan to move the commissions into the Borah Building, on State Street and consolidate office functions.

"Remember, a lot of the clientele for Aging, for the Human Rights Commission, for the Hispanic Commission, for assisted living, for those five, six agencies that we're looking at, a lot of them have the same clientele. This way it's a one-stop-shop," Otter said.

Otter is also planning to eliminate the Department of Parks and Recreation, though he has given Parks Director Nancy Merrill an opportunity to figure out her own funding source ... she has about a month to come up with a plan. Otherwise, the Parks department functions will be taken over by the Department of Lands and Fish and Game. The $6.3 million agency is zeroed out in Otter's 2011 budget.

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Otter's Tiers Again Revealed

Posted By on Fri, Sep 25, 2009 at 3:36 PM

In announcing a 4-percent holdback for state agencies today, Gov. C. L. "Butch" Otter made explicit which agencies he likes and which he finds to be "other."

Otter announced the holdbacks at a press conference this morning, indicating that some agencies would face 2.5 percent cuts while others will have to figure out how to trim 7.5 percent of their budgets (averaging out to 4 percent).

"This goes way beyond the difference between 'necessary' and 'nice.' It goes to the fundamental requirements and expectations that we have for state government," Otter stated.

Otter has used the "necessary and nice" language before. But now that he is talking about, "launching a public dialogue with Idaho taxpayers, lawmakers, agency officials, state employees and other stakeholders on how best to achieve meaningful reorganization of state government," it helps to have the priorities whittled down to three categories.

Under "Critical and Constitutional Required Services": The Governor's Office (which is taking a 5-percent hit), public schools, cops, elected officers ...

Under "Essential Services": Ag research and extension, public defenders, colleges and universities (6-percent cut), Legislature, Military Division, Tax Commission ...

And under "Other," most of which are taking 7.5 percenters: the "nice" commissions (aging, arts, blind, human rights), lands, labor, Species Conservation, Public Broadcasting ...

Some of the agency budgets are broken up in interesting ways. Public Schools and the Superintendent of Public Instruction are listed separately—the super is getting a 2.5-percent cut, while the schools are being paid back in reserves. The Department of Corrections' budget of $95 million does not include any contracts with the private prison operator or other private contractors, who are held harmless in the cuts: A contract is a contract.

Superintendent Tom Luna lauded his own foresight earlier in the year in passing the first ever cuts to public education and refraining from dipping into reserves.

Luna: “This validates the decisions that we made in the last legislative session. There were many who wanted to completely drain the State Stabilization Fund to avoid any cuts in education. If we would have done that, schools would be facing severe mid-year cuts, something we all want to avoid. It’s clear we made the right decision, thus avoiding devastating cuts to public schools mid-year.”

Otter was backed by CDA Sen. Mike Jorgenson and Rep. Scott Bedke, assitant majority leader at his presser. Democrats were briefed on the cuts, but issued statements of concern this afternoon.

“While the governor’s proposal may respond to the immediate financial crisis, we are concerned that the proposal falls short in adequately preparing for Idaho’s economic future. The revenue shortfall is a symptom. Unemployment is the disease. For our economy to recover, Idaho needs to step up efforts to build jobs,” House Minority Leader John Rusche said.

And Sen. Minority Leader Kate Kelly: “The reserve and economic stimulus funds come from our taxpayers. That money doesn’t help our economy if it sits in a savings account. We should be maximizing our use of federal funds and more aggressively accessing our reserve funds to save jobs, create jobs and help build a future for our children. Instead the Governor’s proposal further erodes services at a time when Idahoans need them most.”

Boise State President Bob Kustra, who is dealing with a $4.7 million loss, appears to agree, and has been socking away reserves of his own.

“In anticipation of possible holdbacks, Boise State made appropriate financial plans and will cover this holdback from central reserves on a one-time basis. At this time, the university will be able to avoid furloughs and layoffs of its employees," Kustra said. "Boise State recognizes that the recession has affected everyone, creating hardships for our students, faculty, staff and their families. The reductions further focus our attention on ensuring that the university supports its core functions, maintains its capacity to serve students and identifies operational efficiencies where possible."

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Review Ada County's Draft Budget

Posted By on Mon, Jul 20, 2009 at 2:48 PM

Ada County's proposed budget for fiscal year 2009-2010 is now online, in advance of a public hearing tomorrow night. You can review the details of next year's budget before heading to the courthouse Tuesday evening, July 21, at 6 p.m. for the hearing.

Ada County Budget 2009-2010

The budget represents an 11 percent, or $22 million cut from the current year, much of which comes from:

• A 50-percent reduction in training and travel except when required to maintain professional
• A total of 55 staff reductions from the beginning of FY 2009. The county has eliminated 59
positions, but the FY 2009-10 budget calls for the addition of three employees in the Ada County
Sheriff’s Office and an additional Prosecuting Attorney’s Office employee.
• The consolidation of Ada County’s Public Information Department which reduces the county’s FY
2009-10 budget by approximately $150,000 (See additional information below)
• A moratorium on all maintenance and operation costs including major capital expense projects

That list, of course, comes from Ada County spokeswoman Laura Wylde, who is still, sending out press releases for the county. Her former boss, Rich Wright, was reassigned as the head of the county Administrative Services a few weeks ago and his department will take over public information duties in the proposed budget.

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Budget writers cut public schools

Posted By on Fri, Mar 27, 2009 at 5:17 PM

Idaho budget writers snatched $109 million from Idaho public schools Friday morning, backfilling some of the state cuts with some $40 million in federal stimulus money, but leaving teachers, principals and superintendents with a $69 million hole in the coming fiscal year.

It's the first time in history that the state has allocated less money for public schools than the prior year. The general fund cut amounts to 7.7 percent of the 2009 budget.

Though Democrats on the Legislature's budget panel opposed most of the cuts and the teachers' union said members were dismayed and saddened by the proposed 2010 budget, there has been little public outcry over it.

"This year has been a very very different year…" Idaho Education Association President Sherri Wood told citydesk. "Our members, educators out there across, the state understand that we are in a different circumstance than we’ve ever been in before."

To that end, IEA members have been walking around with band-aids on for a week, rather than marching on the temporary statehouse in Boise.

“To say we’re going to rally over this budget, it’s just very difficult to do,” Wood said.

The IEA will hold a mock JFAC meeting next Wednesday, April 1, at 6:30 p.m. at Boise High School to provide a public forum on the K-12 budget. JFAC does not take public testimony at its meetings.

Boise Democratic Sen. Nicole LeFavour said at the meeting and reiterated just now on the phone to citydesk, that there was money to keep public schools whole but that some legislators do not necessarily like public schools.

“We have so radically underfunded education for so long that when you cut this much things fall apart,” LeFavour said, as she attempted to compose her own blog entry about the day.

Idaho schools chief Tom Luna released the following statement, after stumbling over the words at a press conference: 
"No one wants to cut education, least of all me. Unfortunately in these unprecedented economic times, the members of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee had to make the tough decision to cut public education. While I am not happy that we had to cut public education, I am relieved JFAC made every effort to minimize the cuts to education as much as possible."

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