Budget writers in the Idaho Legislature set the spending for several small department budgets Monday morning. The state education budget, which takes up the majority of general fund spending, was delayed for two days, but lawmakers on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC) finished plans for the Idaho Millennium Fund and several other health and wellness related departments. All of the budgets approved Monday need House and Senate approval, and would go into effect July 1.
The Millennium Fund spending mirrors the recommendations from a legislative panel with additional money for the Office of Drug Policy. The Millennium Fund is the earnings from the state's investments of money from the 1998 settlement with tobacco companies. It distributes about $5 million a year for drug abuse and addiction programs.
All the other department budgets set Monday will see spending reductions, though most of those reductions are less than what was recommended by Gov. Butch Otter. The Commission on Aging, which helps Idaho senior citizens avoid being placed in institutional care, would see a $398,000 reduction in the plan proposed by lawmakers, less than the governor's recommended $411,000. State money covers $4.6 million of the Commission on Aging's $13.9 budget, and would see a 7.9 percent drop in state funding. Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur d'Alene, said that with a smaller budget, more elderly Idahoans will end up in more expensive care centers. “Every little bit of money that we put into this saves money,” he said.
The State Independent Living Council (SILC), which assists people with disabilities, would see an $11,800 reduction of its $102,000 state funding. Like the Commission on Aging, most of SILC's budget comes from federal funds. The governor targeted SILC as one of the agencies to be phased out of state funding, and called for a larger $39,200 cut in the next budget. “You will not see any phaseouts," said JFAC co-chair Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome. She said JFAC doesn't make those decisions. "We try not to make policy.”
Idaho's seven public health districts would see a $985,600 reduction in state funding, a 10.6 percent drop that would leave their funding at $8.3 million.
The only department seeing less money cut than the governor called for is for seven health education programs run by the State Board of Education. The education programs will have some of their funding cut in the current budget restored. The programs are also required to not shrink the size of any of the classes, except for an optometry program affiliated with schools in California that currently only hosts a two-person class. The health education programs would need to raise fees or lower costs to keep all the classroom spots available. JFAC member Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, whose district includes the University of Idaho, joked that she may need to move due to the budget she put together for the programs.
JFAC will set the budgets for the Idaho State Police and State Controller on Tuesday.