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Idaho state agencies outline plans for budget cuts

Gov. Little has characterized the cuts as a “spending reset,” not a budget holdback.
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The Idaho Statehouse. File photo.

BOISE, Idaho — After Gov. Brad Little ordered Idaho state agencies — other than K-12 public schools — to outline plans to cut 1% from their current year’s general-fund budgets and 2% next year, agencies have submitted their plans.

A review of those plans shows the top savings method identified was personnel cost savings, through waiting to fill vacant positions or holding vacant positions open. Second-most common was shifting certain expenses from the state general fund to dedicated funds, such as federal funds or other funding sources to which some agencies have access.

“It’s consistent with what I had expected,” said Little’s budget director, Alex Adams. Both tactics, he said, are “a way to minimize the disruption on Idahoans.”

He said none of the agencies submitted plans for layoffs of state employees.

Agencies identified other cuts as well.

The state Board of Education, for example, proposed reducing research grants to universities next year by $83,160 as part of its plans to meet its 2% base reduction.

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The Soil & Water Conservation Commission proposed filling a vacant position with a part-timer at 19.5 hours per week, instead of with a full-time employee.

The Commission for Pardons and Parole proposed not filling a technical records specialist position next year to save $46,600.

The Department of Environmental Quality plans to cut $110,000 out of its budget for agency vehicles, while also delaying several hires.

The Idaho State Police said it will delay its Advanced Training Course by four months to achieve one-time savings that will cover the 1% cut this year.

The Hispanic Commission will cut its outreach budget by $2,200 this year and $4,500 next year to make its spending cuts.

The College of Eastern Idaho is canceling plans to add two faculty positions to save $110,284, while the College of Southern Idaho is looking to cut low-enrollment classes that draw fewer than eight students.

The Department of Administration plans to trim $31,400 in operating expenses out of next year’s facilities services budget, which covers basic operations and repairs on state buildings.

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Numerous agencies said they’ll cut back on preventive maintenance, travel, training, memberships and subscriptions. Several agencies, including the Department of Parks & Recreation and the State Appellate Public Defender’s office, said they already had savings of more than 1% in their budgets this year they were planning to revert to the general fund.

Adams said, “We trust the agencies. The governor has assembled a team of agency directors that he has full faith and confidence in, and we trust them making the decisions that will minimize the impact on services to Idahoans.”

Adams noted the process started back in the early fall with a series of memos to agencies, at first asking them to develop contingency plans for possible budget cuts of up to 5%.

“We sat down with agencies to talk through what that would look like,” he said. “And then later, he (Gov. Little) decided to pull the trigger on an actual 1% cut this year and an ongoing 2% reduction next year.”

Little has characterized the cuts as a “spending reset,” not a budget holdback. That’s because he’s acting in anticipation of a possible future shortfall in state tax revenues – not reacting to one that’s already occurred.

Adams said the governor has also given unprecedented notice of the cuts to agencies, rather than waiting until Little unveils his proposed budget for next year in January.

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“I think agencies have done a pretty good job,” Adams said. “Salary savings were realistic at many of the agencies, not all of the agencies, but many. And to help them with their 2% ongoing reduction, we intend to pursue flexibility language as part of the budget recommendation.”

That would allow agency directors wider latitude to shift funds between categories, such as personnel and operating costs.

“I just put the emphasis on the process that the governor outlined,” Adams said. “He saw and learned during the last recession the perils of waiting ‘til the last second, which is why we wanted to be as proactive as possible.”

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell. 

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