School budget talks yield ‘path forward’

Sen. Dean Cameron said a series of meeting between lawmakers late Monday went well enough that he sees “a path forward” to solving the Legislature’s school budget dilemma and adjourning as early as Thursday.

On Wednesday, the Senate killed the 2013-14 public school budget 17-18, sending the session into a tailspin and preventing lawmakers from adjourning for the year last week.

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Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene

By Monday, several lawmakers were looking to strike a deal that could put the Legislature back on a course for adjournment. Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene; Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls; and Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian; met with House Speaker Scott Bedke and other House members Monday afternoon to discuss a potential deal.

Cameron, R-Rupert, also participated in those meetings.

After two rounds of talks late Monday, Cameron and Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, said the Senate State Affairs Committee will likely convene a print hearing Tuesday morning to consider introducing a new bill containing a budget solution.

If the new bill is printed, the education committees would convene a public hearing Wednesday, and the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee could meet later Wednesday to craft a new budget, Cameron said.

If all the right pieces fell into all the right places, Cameron said lawmakers could be on track to adjourn for the year Thursday.

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Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert

As for the new bill, Cameron said it would likely direct spending for about $33.9 million previously earmarked for technology and a merit pay system — two snags in the budget debate.

Cameron, who said Monday night he would vote for the new bill, said the amount of discretionary spending in the 2013-2014 school budget is not expected to change from the 1.5 percent bump in the original budget.

Monday’s talks followed weeks of debate over the roles JFAC and the education committees play in setting education policy and budgets.

Before the talks began, Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, expressed optimism.

“I think there is (a potential agreement),” Goedde said.

After the first hour of meetings between the two camps, lawmakers relocated from Bedke’s office to Senate offices, where they met with Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna and talks became more productive.

“I want (negotiations) to continue as long as we’re being productive,” Bedke said before relocating.

When asked whether the new bill represents a consensus Senate agreement, Goedde said: “It’s too early to tell.”

Goedde and Senate Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said lawmakers talked throughout the weekend about potential budget solutions.

“People did not relax this weekend as much as they could have,” Hill said Monday afternoon.

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Rep. Reed DeMordaunt R-Eagle

Across the rotunda, House Education Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, said he thinks lawmakers will be able to work out their differences, pass a school budget and adjourn for the year this week.

“I’ve seen this (budget impasse) as a big logjam,” DeMordaunt said after the House adjourned Monday. “I think they’re starting to break through that and create some consensus – but I don’t know specifically what that is.”