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Luna: K-12 education budget problem more about process than content

Luna: K-12 education budget problem more about process than content

Idaho Freedom Foundation staff
March 29, 2013
[post_thumbnail]State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna feels the education budget is less about what is in the budget than how various items got there.

In the aftermath of the Senate's rejection last Wednesday of the K-12 education budget bill for the 2013-14 school year, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna suggests that there are concerns about the process of the bill's creation, and acknowledges that there are tensions between the legislative budget committees and legislative policymaking committees.

"There is always this line, it's a blurry line that sometimes gets crossed, when the budget committee begins to set policy through a budget," Luna told IdahoReporter.com in an exclusive interview. "Then you have the germane committee members (members of policymaking committees, like the Senate and House education committees) who think that the budget committee is driving policy through the budgets they set. The germane committees say 'we'll pass the laws, and you just fund the laws that we pass.' It's a delicate balance between the two, but this is what we're dealing with right now."

Luna feels the education budget is less about what is in the budget than how various items got there. "I don't think there is so much concern about the line items in the budget, so much as there is concern that some of those line items should have emerged within the germane committees," he said.

Luna's observations are similar to those made by several Senate members who argued against the budget bill last Wednesday before they voted against it.

"We spend a lot of time talking about stakeholder input," Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, noted just prior to the Senate vote. "This bill does not accommodate that. It will not take a long time to craft new legislation. There are already new proposals being drafted. I recommend a 'no' vote on this, and I am voting 'no.'"

Luna explained that while he makes recommendations on education policy, he has to strike a delicate balance between policy ideals and budgetary constraints. "The budgets that I set are always within the target numbers that the Legislature sets. So, first, they let me know how much we have available. Then I go back to them and say, "OK, with this amount of money available, here are the priorities on how I think it should be spent.'"

Sen. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, who voted "no" on the budget bill last Wednesday, tells IdahoReporter.com that policy objectives should always come first. "Policy drives the budget, not the other way around" he stated. "If you were to put that in household terms, it means that you would have a reason to write a check. You don't just write checks without a premise for how much those checks will be for and where they go. Policy must be set first by the Legislature and by the constituency, and then the budget committee can then seek to fund it."

Sen. Branden Durst, D-Boise, concurs with Bayer. "I think he (Bayer) is absolutely right. The budget committee should not be setting policy. The policy committees should set policy. But as it stands, the budget committees set budgets before we even take testimony and receive public testimony. I think that's bass-ackwards."

Durst voted "yes" for the school budgets bill last Wednesday, but told IdahoReporter.com that "voting for this was like flipping a coin. If we had to do it all over again I might vote the opposite way."

Durst, as with many of his Senate colleagues, believes that the problem lies with the budget committees. "This is an issue of egos and pride," he told IdahoReporter.com. "If people are willing to swallow their pride, and I'm speaking to members of the budget committee, if they can see that this process was flawed and that we need to do something different, then we can be out of here early next week."

Luna remains optimistic about reaching consensus over the K-12 budget. "It will get fixed," Luna told IdahoReporter.com. "It's late night meetings, early morning meetings, probably meetings even on Easter weekend, but it will get done. The legislators can't go home until they get it done."

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