The Idaho Statesman
A panel voted Thursday (Feb. 5) to give state employees $5
million more than Gov. Dirk Kempthorne recommended
but there´s a hitch: The state would have to collect
at least $5 million more in taxes than expected. And, the
additional money would be a one-time infusion of cash into
state workers´ pay.
But January´s tax receipts, lawmakers revealed Thursday,
missed their mark for a second month in a row, leaving a $20
million gap in the state´s fortunes.
The January shortfall would be added to the December disappointment
of $7 million.
Kempthorne´s office isn´t commenting, but legislators
who have seen the information are concerned. It´s
kind of scary, House Speaker Bruce Newcomb said. I
hope it´s an anomaly, but that´s exactly what
happened last year.
Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron said the weaknesses
were sales and income taxes.
At least this year, the gap won´t lead to a round of
11th hour budget cuts. Thanks to a federal government bailout,
Kempthorne´s budget would leave $72 million in the state´s
general fund when the fiscal year closes June 30 $52
million if the tax gap sticks.
Exactly a year ago, the Kempthorne administration reported
tax collections had fallen short by $16 million in January,
creating a $19 million budget gap.
Kempthorne budget administrator Brad Foltman declined comment
on the latest turn of events, or even to confirm the lawmakers´
reading of the tax receipt data. As far as I´m
concerned, it´s incomplete information, Foltman
But the governor did briefly discuss the shortfall in a meeting
with legislative leaders late Thursday, and Senate Majority
Leader Bart Davis said there was a sense that the tax collection
information will have no effect on the setting of budgets.
Receipts are what they will be, Davis said.
But if tax collections kick into high gear April is
the big month for that state workers could split $15
million for merit pay increases.
That would put an end to a two-year pay drought that had
been driven by a sour economy.
A joint House-Senate committee voted 16-4 in favor of the
plan. The workers would see $10 million more money regardless
which is the 2 percent investment in salaries Kempthorne
had recommended. The additional $5 million depends on the
strength of tax collections.
As employers, we need to do the best we can whenever
we can for state workers, said Boise GOP Rep. Kathie
Garrett, who proposed the plan the Change in Employee Compensation
Committee agreed to accept.
Boise GOP Sen. John Andreason tried to double the governor´s
recommendation, with the additional $10 million being approved
only if tax collections are robust.
Andreason called it our chance to put our money where
our heart is. But his proposal failed on a 13-7 vote.
GOP Rep. Shirley McKague of Meridian objected to the more
modest $15 million plan, saying lawmakers should keep in mind
taxpayers who have lost their very jobs with this downturn
in the economy, and they certainly can´t receive raises.
McKague, Nampa GOP Reps. Dolores Crow and Gary Bauer and
Kuna GOP Sen. Jack Noble voted against the proposal.
Even though it could mean more money for state employees
than what the governor had recommended, Andrew Hanhardt of
the Service Employees International Union called the vote
It´s not enough, he said. It´s
going to just get worse for state workers.
Kempthorne Chief of Staff Brian Whitlock said the governor
would likely be supportive of the plan because the additional
money for raises is dependent on strong tax collections and
is not automatic.