The budget for Idaho courts approved by lawmakers Tuesday shows a $3.1 million reduction, but that could go away if lawmakers approve a $25 fee for all offenders found guilty. The reduction is $408,000 beyond the recommendations from the governor. The judicial branch’s funding from the general fund would drop $2.5 million, based on decisions from the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC) on Tuesday.
Rep. Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell, said JFAC couldn’t include the potential $5.1 million for courts that could come from a $25 fee until the House approves it. It’s currently awaiting a committee hearing. “It hasn’t come out of there and we can’t put it in here until it comes through at least one body so we know what’s going to happen with it,” Bolz said. He also said there’s a chance lawmakers may not approve a $25 fee for those found guilty. “I’m hearing now that there is some opposition to that $25 (amount). Some people were told earlier on that it was going to be around $10 or $15. I think the courts might be looking at some other alternatives where they might get some funding to make up that difference and reduce that fee.”
If courts can’t find the money elsewhere, Bolz said they shouldn’t come back looking for more tax money from the state. “Right now there’s no general fund money out there. We’re still $5 or $6 million down in balancing the budget.”
The largest department budget set by JFAC Tuesday was for the Department of Juvenile Corrections, which would see a $3.2 million reduction in state funding and an overall 6.8 percent reduction. “It’s a really difficult time for all the JFAC members and all the state agencies,” said Sharon Harrigfeld, the director of juvenile corrections. The budget did include more flexibility for her department to shift funds between programs and personnel costs as needed. “I feel very supported by the Legislature and what they did with our budget,” she said. Lawmakers gave that same flexibility to the courts.
“I think they’re doing their best to live within their budget,” Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, said during the JFAC meeting.
JFAC also moved to give the Office of Drug Policy (ODP) money from the Idaho Millennium Fund. The Joint Millennium Fund Committee didn’t recommend that funding, because it would go to operating expenses. The Idaho Millennium Fund is the annual payout of from a reserve fund created by Idaho’s settlement money with tobacco companies and goes toward substance abuse and addiction programs. The ODP would get $395,400 from the Millennium Fund’s $5.8 million distribution in the next budget.
Two other budgets set by JFAC, the Permanent Building Fund and the Idaho Capitol Commission, received funding levels identical to the governor’s recommendations. Neither department receives general fund dollars. The Permanent Building Fund, which covers construction and maintenance costs for state buildings, will see a $4.5 million, 16 percent drop in the next budget. The Capitol Commission, which oversees the newly restored Capitol, will see a $578,600, 63.9 percent reduction in funding from the current budget to the next budget. The House and Senate must approve all the budgets set by JFAC. must be approved