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For the week of January 14 - 20, 2004

News

Governorís budget close, lawmakers say


"I think itís a pretty bare bones budget, and the stateís still hurting. For people to argue otherwise is not fair. We had this infusion of money from the federal government, and weíre not going to have it next year."

ó WENDY JAQUET, House Minority Leader


By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer

District 25 lawmakers say Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorneís financial blueprint for the state accurately reflects Idahoís status as a state still clawing its way out of financial straits.

In a combined state of the state and budget address issued Monday, Jan. 12, Kempthorne told Idahoís 105 legislators that they must focus on the 2005 and 2006 fiscal years. The key word this year is restraint, he said.

He said his $2 billion budget "is structured to keep all of us on the path to recovery."

"Itís built on the principle of restraint, with a commitment to meet out legal obligations and ongoing support for basic services while aggressively pursuing that which is working," he said.

House Minority Leader Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, said the governorís budget appears to hold a line established during last yearís record-long legislative session.

"I think itís a pretty bare bones budget, and the stateís still hurting," Jaquet said. "For people to argue otherwise is not fair. We had this infusion of money from the federal government, and weíre not going to have it next year."

Along with $80 million of one-time federal aid, which will be used up by the end of the 2005 fiscal year, Idahoís 6 percent temporary sales tax will expire at the same time and cut an estimated $170 million from the revenue stream.

A fluke of timing will also add an additional $20 million pay period for state employees in 2006, Kempthorne pointed out.

The governor said the legislature must have vision to look beyond the current fiscal year and into the next, a point that Jaquet and Senate Minority Leader Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum, said they strongly agree with.

"I thought he was really smart to make it a two-year budget," Jaquet said. "Because he really sent a message to the conservatives who have been talking about cutting the (6 percent) temporary sales tax increase."

Stennett agreed, but said the governor failed in his speech to assume a leadership role on several crucial issues.

"A two-year budget plan is a good idea," he said. "I think where it lacks vision, in my opinionóthere are some things that the governor can do that donít require money but require some political capital."

Kempthorne could have taken a leadership role regarding wilderness negotiations for the Owyhee canyon country and the Boulder-White Cloud mountains, Stennett said. He could have taken a position on air quality issues in the Magic and Treasure valleys. He might have weighed in on an impending fight over Snake River water.

"Those are big issues that arenít part of the budget that the governor can work on," Stennett said. "If I was in his position, I would try to go out and try to resolve some of these leadership issues."

Both local lawmakers said they were concerned about the governorís proposals to cut funding for technology programs in Idahoís schools while boosting the schoolsí discretionary money by $10 million.

They both also expressed concern that the governor did not budget cost-of-living raises for state employees, but earmarked $10 million for merit-based salary increases.

The District 25 lawmakers also said they were pleased the governor proposed to raise the tax credit offered for new jobs and to double the tax reduction for people who purchase long-term health care insurance. They also lauded the governorís commitment to economic development and job creation.

But Jaquet pointed out that education "goes hand in hand" with economic development.

Specifics aside, the governorís budget is close, they said.

"If itís not the governorís budget, per se, itís something awfully similar," Stennett said.

 

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