JFAC backs Otter’s revenue estimate

The Joint Finance Appropriations Committee voted 14-6 on Wednesday to support the budget revenue forecast issued by Gov. Butch Otter and an economic committee. The FY 2015 revenue projection is $2.987 billion, representing a 6.4 percent increase over this year.

The move is important for education because the nearly $3 billion revenue projection is what JFAC members will use to build the state budget.

Using Otter’s budget request as a baseline, the public school budget is the largest expense, accounting for about 47 percent of state spending.

In January, the Economic Outlook and Revenue Assessment Committee also endorsed Otter’s 6.4 percent revenue growth forecast.

Although JFAC members sided with Otter and the revenue assessment panel, there were differences of opinion leading up to Wednesday’s vote.

Republican members of JFAC twice unsuccessfully tried to push a lower revenue estimate. Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, pushed a 4.6 percent revenue forecast, which would have reduced revenue by $50 million below Otter’s mark.

Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, also pushed a lower revenue increase that would have undercut Otter’s figure by $89.7 million.

Both motions failed, 7-13 and 5-15, respectively.

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Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome

JFAC co-chairwoman Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, backed the 6.4 percent increase JFAC ultimately signed off on. She pointed out that it is difficult to set budgets so far in advance, but she valued the work of Otter’s staff and the revenue assessment committee.

“We do always budget on the come,” Bell said. “We know that we budget carefully toward the come because of that danger, but we do need that (revenue projection) number, we need to accept the number to begin the process.”

Committee members also approved language that would incorporate 2 percent raises for state employees in the budget building process. Under the move, raises available to state employees would be broken down so 1 percent is ongoing and the other 1 percent would be a one-time bonus.

The raises would also be merit-based, meaning some state employees may not see a pay increase, budget analyst Cathy Holland-Smith told lawmakers.

Even with the revenue projection set and language for raises incorporated into the budget process, all individual state agency budgets still must be set and approved one at a time.

The public school budget is scheduled to be set on March 3.

Thursday, Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, and House Education Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, are expected to testify about public school budget issues.