The Idaho Budget Index examines appropriation bills on several fronts to add important context to lawmakers’ discussions as they are considered on the floor of the House and Senate. Among the issues we look at in drawing a conclusion about a budget:
Does the agency requesting these funds serve a proper role of government? Has wasteful or duplicative spending been identified within the agency, and if so, has that spending been eliminated or corrected? Does the budget examine existing spending to look for opportunities to contain spending, e.g., through a base reduction? If there is a maintenance budget, is that maintenance budget appropriate? Are the line items appropriate in type and size, and are they absolutely necessary for serving the public? Does the budget contemplate the addition of new employees or programs? Does the appropriation increase dependency on the federal government?
Our analysis is intended to provide lawmakers and their constituents with a frame of reference for conservative budgeting, by summarizing whether appropriation measures contain items that are sincerely objectionable or sincerely supportable.
The Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Action Center was created in 2015 with House Bill 302. The rationale for the STEM action center was to promote the expansion of student engagement in STEM.
It was unnecessary for the state to create a separate government entity for STEM, rather than as a function of myriad government agencies already working in the education space. Additionally, the agency hinders, rather than helps, the formulation of private sector solutions aimed at student STEM engagement and learning opportunities.
The fiscal note for House Bill 302 stated that the appropriation would be $2 million to cover salary, benefits, and operational costs. The actual expenditure for Fiscal Year 2016 was $558,000 and that amount has quickly grown, with a Fiscal Year 2018 actual of more than $6 million. The $4.7 million request for Fiscal Year 2020 does not include the additional transfer of $1 million from the General Fund to the STEM education fund. When you add back this transfer, the increase from the Fiscal Year 2019 appropriation is about 22 percent.
There is a STEM action center website, https://stem.idaho.gov/about/, but no rigorous metrics are provided on the return on investment for Idaho taxpayers of the more than $9.9 million of General Fund dollars that have been appropriated from FY16 through FY19. The General Fund request for FY20 is more than $3.5 million.
Inputs are measured, rather than outputs.
The STEM action center performance report doesn’t provide details on STEM university degree granted or even increases or decreases in enrollment for STEM university degrees.