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Miller attempts to trim Otter’s spending, budget panel beats him back

Miller attempts to trim Otter’s spending, budget panel beats him back

Dustin Hurst
February 26, 2016
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February 26, 2016

Some members of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee beat back one legislator’s attempt to rein in Gov. Butch Otter’s big spending -- at least in one budget area.

Rep. Steven Miller, R-Fairfield, led a charge to cut Otter’s request for $5 million in new Idaho Opportunity Scholarship money, which is part of the governor’s focus on education spending this legislative session.

Otter’s proposal, which he laid out in his State of the State address early last month, would double the scholarship and the amount of students who could receive college aid from the state each year.

Legislators set a handful of budgets Thursday, including the spending plan for special programs at the State Board of Education. During debate, Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, motioned for a $17.1 million board budget, which included the governor’s recommended funding for the state scholarship program.

Brackett’s proposal, supported by the two committee co-chairs, plus House Vice Chair Marc Gibbs, R-Grace, represented a 43.9 percent spending hike above the special programs’ 2016 appropriation.

Miller sought an increase, but by a smaller amount. Instead of standing with Otter’s ask, Miller sought only $3 million in new scholarship money. His proposal still represented a 27.1 percent spending hike above the programs’ 2015 appropriation.

Trying to play a balancing act, Miller said his plan would still do a lot for college-bound Idaho students, but would protect the Legislature from overspending.

“This is still a 60 percent increase in the scholarship fund, which I think is very significant,” Miller said.

Miller said lawmakers need to use caution because the Legislature still has some pricey plans under consideration.

“We have a lot bills out there that have not gone through both houses,” Miller said. “And we’ve got a lot of undecided budget items before us.”

He said it’d be “prudent” for lawmakers to take the lower amount before deciding bigger spending items. The committee has not set spending plans for its most expensive programs, including public schools, health and welfare programs, and Idaho’s prison system.

Miller lost the move on a 7-to-13 vote. Three of the four budget panel leaders voted against his more frugal plan. Among committee leaders only House Co-Chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, sided with Miller’s motion.

The panel also killed a proposal by Boise Democratic Rep. Phylis King, which called for doubling the governor’s proposed amount to $10 million for fiscal year 2017.

King lost on a 3-to-17 vote.

Brackett’s plan for $5 million in scholarship funds eventually won out, succeeding on a 18-to-2 tally. Only Rep. Jason Monks, R-Meridian, and Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Grangeville, voted against the Brackett plan.

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