|Democrats slam education
Supermajority votes to send governor higher education bill
By Wayne Hoffman
The Idaho Statesman
Democrats issued another scathing attack Monday on the Republican supermajority as lawmakers voted overwhelmingly to send Gov. Dirk Kempthorne a bill cutting higher education funding nearly 10 percent.
The House´s vote on Senate Bill 1487 would give the state´s three universities and Lewis-Clark State College $213.5 million in state tax revenue -- $22.8 million less than the year before.
"I don´t think any of us wanted to do this," Republican Lee Gagner of Idaho Falls said. But Republicans said the state´s slumped economy gave them little choice.
Democrats didn´t buy it and blamed the funding problem on Republicans who pushed for and won $100 million in tax cuts when the state could afford far less.
"Don´t sit here and whine about how we don´t have any money because we made some irresponsible decisions last year," Democrat Wendy Jaquet said.
"The slowing down of the economy is a time when we need to invest in our future," said Democrat Donna Boe of Pocatello, who also criticized House leaders Monday for changing their minds and refusing to hear the party´s proposals to postpone last year´s tax cuts.
"Idaho should be expanding higher education, not shrinking it," Boise Democrat Ken Robison said.
Blackfoot Republican Dennis Lake said there´s simply no more money available to give the schools.
"We´ve turned the rocks, and we´ve looked under them, and we gathered all the money we could feel comfortable spending," Lake said.
Doug Jones of Filer was one of few Republicans to side with the minority party and urge more money for higher education.
"When we short-change higher education, we shortchange the students, the citizens and the businesses of this state," Jones warned.
A Democrat-led plan to inject more money in the spending package failed 53-15. The bill cleared the House and was forwarded to Gov. Dirk Kempthorne on a 52-17 vote.
On much narrower votes, the House forwarded Kempthorne Senate-passed budgets for Medicaid and other social programs. They passed by just a handful of votes -- the opposition split between those opposed to the cuts in services they would make and those who contended they did not cut enough.
"We haven´t even begun asking the questions about where we can save money," Health and Welfare Chairman Tom Loertscher of Iona said. "There´s a better way."
Among other things, the Health and Welfare Department budget eliminates preventive dental care for 37,000 poor adults and caps the money that can be spent on health care for children from working poor families. Budget writers say all eligible children will still be served, but the Kempthorne administration has refused to make that guarantee.
The Senate approved and sent to the House an Idaho State Police budget that cuts back on spending for protection of the governor and guarding the Capitol.
"We´ve placed an emphasis on putting our highway patrolmen out on the highway," GOP Sen. Shawn Keough of Sandpoint said.
The budget cuts executive protection by $67,000, to the $265,000 spent a year ago. It would also reduce spending on state police protection at the Capitol. The state anticipates spending $412,500 this year, but that will drop to $125,000 -- the amount allocated before the terror attacks on the East Coast.
Lawmakers also limited the bill for private security at the Statehouse to $789,000, the same amount spent this year. The administration had wanted to spend more than $1 million in the new budget.
Security for July´s National Governors Association conference in Boise was also limited to $300,000. The administration wanted $458,000, but analysts pointed out that only $200,000 was spent on security when the association held its summer meeting in Boise in 1986. Adjusting for inflation puts the equivalent at $300,000 now.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.; To offer story ideas or comments, contact reporter Wayne Hoffman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 377-6416 .
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