Lawmakers start scrutinizing Luna budget

Senate Education Committee Chairman John Goedde praised the direction Tom Luna took in his 2014-15 budget request, but said spending levels are likely to be a major factor for lawmakers.

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Sen. John Goedde

Luna unveiled a nearly $1.4 billion spending plan Tuesday. His proposal includes ideas from Gov. Butch Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education — ideas that would transform teacher pay and restore recession-era budget cuts.

“It certainly incorporates a lot of the work the task force did,” said Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene. “I’m hoping that it’s realistic and hoping that state revenues will support something of that magnitude.”

Luna called for $77 million in new funding – a 5.9 percent increase.

The proposal ties $42.5 million to a starting career ladder pay plan and $16.5 million to gradually restore school districts’ operational funding – often called “discretionary spending” in state budget circles.

“It’s a stretch,” Goedde said. “But sometimes stretches are good.”

Meanwhile, House Education Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, praised Luna’s ability to build his request around some of the task force’s plans.

Last month, Luna requested a 30-day budget-writing extension in order to incorporate the task force’s recommendations. Luna submitted the budget Oct. 1.

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Rep. Reed DeMordaunt

“Those recommendations from the governor’s task force, those were 30,000-foot recommendations from a high level,” DeMordaunt said. “For the superintendent’s office to turn those around into actionable plans at this point in time – I was impressed.”

On Thursday, budget analyst Paul Headlee told legislative budget writers the task force’s full plans would cost $346 million to $406 million to implement, according to Betsy Russell of the Spokane Spokesman-Review. That estimate aligns with the $350 million to $400 million estimate Luna presented during a Meridian Chamber of Commerce luncheon Tuesday.

But Headlee’s estimate does not appear to incorporate the cost of the task force’s recommendation to provide all students with access to a technology device and the associated educational content. (Headlee’s full presentation is available on the Spokesman-Review’s website.)

Coming up with money for education programs is “a balancing act,” DeMordaunt said, but he stressed more new money should be devoted to reversing the $82.5 million in operational funding cuts.

“Our state has always been committed to education when you look at the percentage of our budget that goes to it,” DeMordaunt said. “Is this the right increase? It’s too early for me to determine that.”

Although Geodde and DeMordaunt said the proposed budget needs to be scrutinized, both support implementing the task force’s recommendations. The committee chairs were two members of the 31-member group.

“That’s where we need to go eventually,” DeMordaunt said.  “The fact that we’re actually starting to look at some dollars associated with that, I was pleased to see.”

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