JFAC agrees with Otter’s spending plan

Legislative budget writers on Friday unanimously agreed to increase state spending by 3 percent next year – a move that aligns with Gov. Butch Otter’s budget request.

Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee members voted 20-0 to set the 2013-2014 spending ceiling at $2.783 billion.  Committee members did not set the public schools budget – work that isn’t expected to happen until March.

If budget writers continue to follow Otter’s budget, they won’t fund about $13 million worth of initiatives that were in Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna’s budget. Otter is calling for a 2 percent increase in education spending, while Luna requested a 3 percent bump.

On Friday, lawmakers only addressed the $2.783 billion budget ceiling. Legislators could still pull the $13 million for Luna’s extras from other programs or areas.

Last month, Luna submitted his own budget request to JFAC. There were several differences between Luna’s proposal and Otter’s, including:

  • $3.75 million for professional development for implementing Common Core standards,
  • $10.4 million for technology, $300,000 for administrative evaluations,
  • $150,000 for creating a safe schools task force.
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Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls

“Those are things that (Luna) has in his budget that are not in the governor’s budget,” said Rep. Jeff Thompson, an Idaho Falls Republican who sits on JFAC.

Thompson plans to carry the public schools budget on the House floor.

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“We will have to continue to have the dialogue on those issues,” Thompson said. “We’re working the school budget, and this will give us more of a guideline to where we need to head to.”

JFAC co-chairman Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said the budget target represents the total amount of money lawmakers have to spend next year.

“Remember that number we choose today to budget to is the ceiling,” Cameron said. “That doesn’t mean we have to spend every dollar up to that ceiling.”

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Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert

The budget target anticipates state officials will end the current budget year with about $57.7 million left over. The budget allows $35 million of that money to be swept into state reserve accounts. Budget writers also left room for another $20 million to go toward offsetting potential personal property tax cuts – one of the big remaining issues lawmakers anticipate debating this year.

JFAC co-chairwoman Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, led the push to adopt Otter’s recommendation for increasing state spending by 3 percent.

“It just appears to me spending at this level over the 2013 budget is the appropriate place for us to be,” Bell said. “This is a ceiling. It appears to me it cannot be any more, but it can be less.”

Lawmakers passed several important checkpoints this week that could signal the legislative session is about halfway over. Monday was the deadline for introducing new bills in most committees, although House Education Committee members are able to print bills up to adjournment.

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Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome

On Friday, in addition to setting the 2013-2014 budget target, lawmakers sent home the crop of student pages who had been appointed to serve at the Capitol during the first half of the session.

“This is going to sound strange, but I think it’s flying by,” Thompson said. “As far as the overall session, this feels like we’re about halfway through it, but you never know if we’re going to have a snag on personal property tax or the state health care exchange.”

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