Legislators hard at work setting budgets

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Keough

Hello from snowy Boise. I was thinking that I’d miss the snow from home here in sunny — but cold — Boise but this past week brought about 4 inches of snow here. I know it is not at all close to what we have at home, but, few know the art of driving in snow here in the Treasure Valley.

The legislative budget committee, of which I am co-chair, is working on setting the state government budgets and should finish that responsibility around March 9. The rule of thumb is that two weeks after we finish setting the budgets in the committee they will work through the entire Legislature for deliberation and then the session will end. That puts us on target to finish about the end of March.

The biggest budget that we set is that of the K-12 public schools. The Idaho Constitution requires the state to ensure a system of free and uniform public schools and this budget is reflective of that responsibility. The action of the budget committee provides an additional $ 100 million to the school districts across the state.

The new funding includes the following: a $41.6 million increase from the General Fund for year four of the five-year phase-in of the career ladder compensation system for Idaho’s educational instructors; another $ 19.9 million to the mislabeled item of discretionary funding with $8.7 million of this new money being needed to maintain the current year funding in this line item that pays for all the other things the state doesn’t cover like lights, heat, and more; another $10.5 million increase for classroom technology, which is a 30 percent increase over the current year; an additional $7 million for a 3-percent base salary increase for administrators and classified staff, which are categories of employees not on the career ladder; an increase for information technology staffing; and, additional increases and decreases for several other distributions that net to the $100 million General Fund increase over the current year. This funding amount will also help provide for the increase in the number of students that are attending our K-12 public schools as the population in Idaho continues to grow.

Another important education budget set this week was for our state Division of Career-Technical Education. The budget committee approved a $66.4 million general fund budget for the Division of Career-Technical Education. This includes $1.68 million to expand capacity at the state’s six postsecondary technical colleges and reduce waiting lists in 13 high-skill, high-wage

fields. There are thousands of jobs that are not being filled in Idaho because of the lack of training in these skill areas. This increased spending will assist more of our fellow Idahoans to obtain the training that will enable them to secure these jobs which in turn helps our economy to grow.

We have two weeks more of budget setting ahead of us and we will wrestle with a growing number of prisoners for felony convictions, an increased use of Medicaid as a growing number of disabled, elderly, and children are eligible for this medical care, and many other items within our state budget.

While I have focused on the work I do on the budget committee, much more work is underway on the hundreds of pieces of legislation that have been printed for consideration this year. Remember you can keep tabs on the work being done at the Legislature’s website ( legislature.idaho.gov) where you can see all the bills, the meeting agendas, listen to committee hearings, watch and listen to the work on the Senate and House Floors, email your legislators — or every legislator if you wish to — and even construct your own list of bills you’d like to keep track of if you are not interested in every one of them on the list. I encourage you to stay tuned and to stay in touch. I can be contacted via our Information Center by phone: Toll free 1-800-626-0471. I can be reached directly at skeough@senate.idaho.gov.

Sen. Shawn Keough represents Boundary and Bonner counties in legislative District 1 in the Idaho Senate.

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