Friday, September 25, 2009

Otter's Tiers Again Revealed

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

otter.jpg
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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