Idaho Capitol dome

The dome of the Idaho Capitol.

Idaho’s state agencies are asking for 6.4 percent more in general fund spending in 2020-2021 than they were budgeted this year.

The deadline for state agencies to turn in their budget requests was Friday. Overall, agencies are asking for $4,159,855,400 in general fund dollars, a $249,501,000 increase over this year’s budget.

State fiscal years run from July 1 to June 30, and the Legislature sets the budgets for the coming year during each year’s legislative session. A financial report that came out in August said Idaho’s estimated revenue in the 2020, or current, fiscal year would be $96 million less than the numbers lawmakers used to set this year’s budget, cutting the state’s surplus from $174 million to $51 million. As a result, Gov. Brad Little asked state agencies to identify cuts to make to their base budgets and restrict supplemental spending requests for next year to emergency requests only.

“For comparison, the agency request is down substantially from the previous year,” Division of Financial Management Administrator Alex Adams said in an email. “In (fiscal year) 2020, the agency request was $376,040,500 — or 10.3 percent — above the (fiscal year 2019) appropriation.”

The agency budget requests are just a starting point. Little will present lawmakers with his own recommended budget in January, and the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee will take it from there, weighing Little’s and the agencies’ requests and their own views.

The public school system, the biggest single piece of Idaho’s general fund, is asking for $2.73 billion in 2020-21, compared to $2.6 billion this year, a 4.9 percent increase. The requested increase in general fund spending is up 5.3 percent, from $1.9 billion this year to $1.99 billion, with the rest of the money coming from other sources such as federal grants and revenue from state lands.

“This budget request continues our emphasis on improving teacher compensation, enhancing student safety and well being, and creating innovative, individualized ways to help students meet their potential and find success in academics and beyond,” Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra said in a statement. “Education stakeholders and Idaho families share those priorities, and they also match up well with Gov. Brad Little’s objectives to improve K-12 education in this state.”

Line items in the budget include $40 million to extend the “career ladder” to raise pay for veteran teachers, although Ybarra said the number could change depending on the recommendations of the “Our Kids, Idaho’s Future” education task force meeting now.

“The career ladder, a product of Idaho’s first K-12 education task force, has come a long way toward rewarding Idaho educators for their efforts and skill, especially in attracting new, early-career educators,” said Ybarra, who is on the current task force. “But we still need to do more for our experienced teachers, recognizing their value and encouraging them to stay in Idaho schools despite higher pay in other states.”

The state Department of Health and Welfare is asking for $3.73 billion next year, a 9 percent jump from this year’s $3.42 billion. While the department’s overall budget is bigger than the schools’, a bigger percentage of it comes from federal dollars since the majority of it is for Medicaid, which is mostly federally funded. DHW expects its federally funded budget to be $2.46 billion next year, compared to the $2.22 billion set in this year’s budget, and it is asking for $937 million in general fund dollars next year compared to $865.3 million set in this year’s budget.

DHW’s budget request contains $411.56 million to fund the first full year of Medicaid expansion, which would extend Medicaid coverage to everyone making up to 138 percent of the poverty level. Of this, $370.4 million would come from the federal government, with $30.66 million coming from the state general fund and $10.5 million from the Millennium Fund, a fund set up with Idaho’s share of the settlement of a major lawsuit against the tobacco companies in the 1990s. This is about double this year’s spending on Medicaid expansion, since expansion coverage will kick in on Jan. 1 and lawmakers only had to cover the first six months in this year’s budget.

The Idaho Department of Correction is asking for $326.3 million in 2020-21, an increase of 19.4 percent over this year’s $273.25 million budget. The department estimates it may spend $296.47 million this year according to its budget request. The biggest factors here are spending on placing inmates in county jails and out-of-state, and spending on medical costs. Idaho pays to place hundreds of inmates in two private prisons in Texas as well as in county jails. Lawmakers budgeted $27.46 million for county and out-of-state placements for this year, but the department’s budget request estimates it will spend $37.88 million, and it is requesting $45.56 million for next year. As for medical services, lawmakers budgeted $48.82 million this year, but the department is estimating it will spend $56.67 million and is requesting $58.78 million for next year.

“At this point, the numbers are nothing more than estimates,” said IDOC Director Josh Tewalt. “All of our population forecasts and figures are going to change multiple times.”

Tewalt said IDOC normally asks for a supplemental appropriation to cover some expenses due to inmate population numbers, and finalizes its forecast before JFAC starts to meet. IDOC had 9,145 inmates as of Tuesday, compared to 8,744 on March 1 and 8,709 on Sept. 1, 2018. Tewalt said Idaho’s prison population has been growing by about 60 a month on average.

Budget requests from other big state agencies include:

— The Idaho Transportation Department is asking for $753.98 million in the 2021 fiscal year, an increase of 3.6 percent over this year’s $727.64 million. Actual estimated ITD spending for the 2020 fiscal year is $1.19 billion. The biggest single piece of this is federal spending on state highway projects, which was budgeted at $347.2 million but ITD’s budget request shows an estimate of $564.7 million.

— The community college system is requesting a 3 percent bump, from $143.4 million to $147.7 million. The College of Eastern Idaho is asking for a 1.6 percent bump from $11.64 million to $11.83 million.

— The state university system is asking for $645 million, a 6.75 percent increase over this year’s $604.25 million budgeted. Locally Idaho State University is asking for $154.89 million, compared to this year’s $150 million budget. The college and university system overall is also estimating it will spend $150 million this year more than was set in the 2020 fiscal year budget. This difference “reflects actual tuition and fee collections as opposed to the earlier estimates used when the budgets first passed,” DFM said — the state Board of Education set tuition and fees in April after the budgets had been set. Most of it, or $133.1 million, is money being carried over from last year, said Carson Howell, chief financial officer for the state Board of Education. It also includes $14.1 million more in fees, a $6.1 million upward adjustment due to actual enrollment, and a $3.2 million cut due to other adjustments.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with a corrected inmate count from IDOC.

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.

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