Keough leads JFAC through 2017 budget

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(Dave Goins/Idaho News Service) In the absence of Idaho Lt. Gov. Brad Little, state Sen. Shawn Keough, left, R-Sandpoint, presided during a session of the Idaho Senate in Boise on Friday. On a personal note, Keough announced the presence of her husband in the Senate gallery. "I'd like to recognize my sweetheart and partner in life, Mike Keough," she said.

BOISE — The state senator for Bonner and Boundary counties, Sen. Shawn Keough, has been burning the candle on both ends this legislative session. Along with her co-chair, Rep. Maxine Bell, Keough leads the important Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee at the state capitol here. The senator and representative are a dynamic duo with years of collective experience under their belts. Keough said that working alongside Bell is “terrific.”

“Co-Chair Bell is a walking encyclopedia of the state agencies’ budgets and the budgeting process.”

The committee oversees the entire state budgetary process, meets daily, and goes through more than 100 separate pieces of legislation. Due to the immense amount of work involved, Bell and Keough have eight full-time staff which track each piece of relevant legislation and keep it moving through the legislative process so that JFAC can complete its task of setting the state budget by mid-March. Keough said the staff also tracks each state agency’s expenditures, and does the research and writing for each budget bill once JFAC has given its green light.

This year, the 20-member JFAC has 10 new members, whom Keough said “each bring experience from their private business lives and perspectives from their legislative districts that add to the committee and its work.”

Among the key budgetary proposals introduced so far in this year’s legislative session are the $2.5 million Gov. Butch Otter has proposed to train school administrators in how to properly evaluate teachers, plus $2.5 million to also train school principals to evaluate teachers. The total $5 million would be allocated to the State Board of Education as opposed to the State Department of Education, which manages all Idaho public K-12 education. Teacher evaluations are an important component in Idaho’s educational reforms of recent years.

Keough said she hasn’t yet seen exactly how this money would be used, and that Idaho Superintendent of Public Education Sherri Ybarra and her staff are already doing such training for cheaper.

“Unless I see more data and info that shows merit in the proposal I am not in favor of spending this money as it does not seem necessary.”

Otter proposed another $15 million in additional, non-discretionary funds, to help school districts cover health care costs. Keough said, “I think the idea has merit and I am encouraging the House and Senate Education Committees to explore this further as it is clearly a policy change.” She added, “I believe the ‘discretionary’ line item in the K-12 school budget needs to increase to reflect the rising costs that school districts need to pay for things like electricity, heat, fuel for school buses and much more.”

Last, Medicaid Division Administrator Matt Wimmer told JFAC Jan. 31 that he plans to shift $1.1 million out of the Division of Behavioral Health budget and put it into the Medicaid bueget, which would then trigger a federal match of $3 million Idaho could then use to fund its children’s mental health services.

While Keough did not comment directly to this proposal, with respect to mental health care in general Keough said, “Mental health care is the same as medical health care and preventative care is not only humane but it reduces the costs at all levels.

The people in need of these services in Boundary and Bonner Counties will benefit from an increase of funding for them. Likewise, as money comes from the federal and state levels this relieves the burden of payment on the counties and cities in those instances where the costs fall into the indigent or catastrophic care systems.”

To learn more about the work JFAC is doing this year, please go to: https://legislature.idaho.gov/lso/bpa. To learn more about the Idaho Legislature, go to: www.legislature.idaho.gov.

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