Before setting next year’s budget, members of the Joint Finance-Appropriation Committee (JFAC) spent Wednesday taking care of this year’s outstanding bills.
The committee approved more money for indigent health care, a voter information campaign and child welfare, among other things.
The largest appropriation was for $13 million to the Catastrophic Health Fund, the account of last resort for indigent health care costs. This wasn’t unexpectedly large, however. Last year, lawmakers gave the fund enough money to operate it through the first half of the year, asking that officials come back during the 2012 session to justify costs.
Combined with the original approval plus the extra money approved Wednesday, that catastrophic fund has a total budget of $35 million for 2012.
The secretary of state’s office will see $200,000 in extra money to inform voters about changes in the voting process this year. A bill passed last year requires all voters to re-register and declare party affiliation to take part in elections.
The additional funds for the secretary’s office will cover ads on radio, billboards and television, but not social media. Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, suggested the elections office look at that medium, but others on the committee feel traditional media is still the way to go.
Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, said older folks in her area typically don’t use social media to obtain information. “This is best way to catch those people who really do need to know and who need to turn out,” Bell said.
Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said while 92 percent of young voters are using Facebook, his office has yet to look into that medium for spreading voter information. “We certainly think this is the way to go to get younger voters,” Ysursa said.
The extra money for the secretary’s budget was approved 15-4 by JFAC.
The committee also approved $750,000 in road construction costs for the state hospital in Nampa. Last year, the Idaho Transportation Department reconfigured a major road near the hospital, which forced the closure of one of the roads accessing the property.
The new money would go to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare and would allow the agency to reopen the road.
Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, opposed the budget, citing that the property’s future is in question, with some lawmakers looking at selling the state-owned acreage. “I really thing we need to do a long-term study before we spend the money,” Vander Woude said.
But his colleagues disagreed, arguing that the road money makes sense. Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, said that the new access point would make the property more valuable if the state chooses to sell. “It will have paid for itself in the long run,” Broadsword said.
Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, sided with Broadsword, saying that low material prices make the construction more attractive now. “I think this is the right time to do it,” Hagedorn said. “We can now take advantage of very good construction rates.”
The committee voted 16-2 to approve the road spending.
The Department of Environment Quality could also see more money to for the Bunkerhill Superfund Cleanup site after lawmakers approved $671,000 for the project. Other extra money approval will pay legal fees incurred by a ruling against the state in a class action lawsuit and various energy conservation projects around the state.
The budgets now head to the House and Senate floors for consideration.
JFAC will hear Thursday from House and Senate chairmen about various department budgets and could begin setting spending plans as early as Friday. Lawmakers also need to set a spending target, usually a much-debated process. Gov. Butch Otter plans for $2.7 billion in tax revenue in fiscal year 2013, but the legislative forecasting committee pegged the number $33 million lower.