In the wake of Idaho voters' November 2012 rejection of Propositions 1, 2 and 3, better known as the “Luna Laws,” the House Education Committee huddled this morning to consider new strategies.
Lawmakers heard a presentation from Paul Headlee, budget and policy analyst from the Legislative Services Office, on the fiscal impact of the vote. Measures passed during the 2012 legislative session specifically allocated a portion of Idaho’s education budget for funding the implementation of the Luna Laws. Their failure leaves $30.6 million in public school funding unallocated.
“We’re looking at this as a conservative number,” said Headlee, warning that, with an increase in “use it or lose it” budget flexibility for districts from 2012 to 2013, the actual amount may be even higher. “It’s safe to assume that that number will increase. To what amount, we don’t know. Hopefully by February, we’ll have a better estimate.”
Headlee presented to the committee three possible options for the unallocated funds:
“These aren’t the only options,” he said. “They are really only the primary options and there may be other solutions out there.”
The first option, which required no legislative action, allowed the funds to remain in appropriations until the end of the fiscal year (June 30), at which point they would be transferred to the Public Education Stabilization Fund and used to reconcile the budgets of districts across the state, keeping them all in the black for the year.
The second option allows for distribution of funds to individual school districts. Because the Luna Laws’ failure reinstated several programs and restored teachers’ salaries, this option would result in a $6.9 million deficit at the end of the fiscal year. Such a deficit “would not be insurmountable,” according to Headlee, because of the current $49 million balance in the PESF.
The third and final option Headlee presented was to reallocate the $30 million to purposes other than education, which would require a two-thirds vote by the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee to reopen the 2013 public schools budget and remove the funds. There has already been talk of using that money to offset costs to counties if Idaho’s personal property tax is repealed this year, according to Republican House Speaker Scott Bedke.
“In this era of how we’re going to pay for personal property tax, it’s no secret there are people who are eying some of this money,” Bedke said to members of the press just before the start of the session.
No formal discussion took place during this morning's committee meeting which was, according to Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, a Boise Republican and committee chairman, "purely informational."
“All of these numbers we need to have a discussion about,” DeMordaunt said. “There’s certainly an impact. We’re not going to have that discussion today, but we need a discussion about each of these (funds) and whether they should be restored back to the school districts.”