Friday, March 6, 2009

Legislators weigh impact of stimulus dollars

Jaquet: Mountain Rides funding has has been discussed

Express Staff Writer

Wendy Jaquet

The budgeting process for the 2009 session of the Idaho Legislature is looking like no other.

This week, Republican and Democratic members of the powerful Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee are sifting through budget recommendations from Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, funding requests from state agencies and anticipated sources of revenue. These are pretty standard items as far as the state's annual budgeting process goes.

What makes this year's budgeting unique is the sudden infusion of federal cash Idaho leaders expect as part of the recently approved federal American Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The mammoth piece of legislation is meant to stimulate job creation, jumpstart growth and transform the nation's struggling economy. President Barack Obama signed the $787 billion bill into law in mid-February.

Idaho's share of the stimulus package is expected to be about $1 billion.

Just two months into her membership on JFAC, House member Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, is relishing the distinction of being part of the important budgeting committee, whose significance has only grown this year as it is asked to restructure the budget with the stimulus funding in mind.

"I like it," she said during an interview with the Idaho Mountain Express.

Jaquet said she has been pleased by the one-on-one work with Republicans on JFAC. She often refers to JFAC as the "legislature within the Legislature" because the full House and Senate typically approve its recommendations.

"It's collaborative," she said.

The budgeting work going on right now in the Legislature is for fiscal year 2010, which begins Oct. 1.

Jaquet was especially pleased to hear a funding issue with local Blaine County ties come up during recent talks on the committee. She said that during funding discussions with Pam Lowe, the director of the Idaho Transportation Department, Lowe mentioned that Mountain Rides may be organized take advantage of funding for new buses. Mountain Rides provides public transportation in the Wood River Valley.

"I was proud," Jaquet said.

She said a discussion ensued about purchasing buses without including operations money. She said that concern was satisfied by an explanation that Mountain Rides' operational expenses are paid with money from Ketchum and Sun Valley's local-option tax receipts, property taxes and bus fares.

JFAC will soon send its budget recommendation to the full Legislature, which will then vote and send it on to Otter, Jaquet said. Should the governor veto the budget, the Legislature would likely attempt to overturn it with a two-thirds majority vote in both houses, she said.

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