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JFAC Prepares To Set Idaho’s 2013 Budget

After 40 days in session, it’s time for Idaho state legislators to start setting the 2013 budget. And while a surplus in revenue means a better outlook than last year, there are some tough decisions ahead.

Senate Education chairman John Goedde presented to the Joint Finances Appropriations Committee on Friday, with a recommendation for funding in the next fiscal year.

Goedde suggested replacing the money taken out of teacher salaries to pay for the Students Come First plan.

“This is the first time we’ve had money,” said Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls, who sits on JFAC. “More seasoned legislators have always said it’s tough to reduce budgets, but when you have some money, it’s tougher because everybody is wanting a piece of that pie.”

With general fund revenue coming in millions higher than projected, JFAC members are anticipating a more positive budget setting process.

It will be based on a target nearly 4.5 percent higher than 2011.

“Last year, there just seemed to be a heavy, dark feeling in committee day after day because of extremely difficult decisions we had to make,” said Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot.

This week, committee chairs had their chance to weigh in.

After $35 million in controversial cuts last year, Health and Welfare committee chairs recommended some restoration of services.

“I think we’ll be able to restore some dental benefits to the developmentally disabled and folks like that in our society,” said Bair.

The Senate Commerce chair suggested a raise for state workers, who said they haven’t seen a cost of living adjustment in four years.

On Friday, JFAC members voted to fund on-going two percent raises next year for performing workers.

Another priority, said Thompson, is reducing taxes.

“A second priority for some people, after reducing taxes, is to backfill our savings day accounts,” said Thompson.

“We hope to do more this year with colleges and universities, particularly the governor’s iGem program,” said Sen. Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls. “That’s very important to our region.”

Thompson said JFAC members hope to have the budget set by the second week of March.

On Friday, JFAC members agreed to set the 2013 budget based on a figure about $33 million less than what Gov. Butch Otter recommended.

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