Gov. Brad Little sent all state agencies a memo calling for a “spending reset,” and requested that budget cuts be made for fiscal year (FY) 2020. Each agency’s general fund budget will include a 1% rescission to the 2020 budget and a 2% base reduction to the 2021 budget. Idaho’s fiscal year runs July 1 to June 30.
The request is in response to the tax revenues coming in lower than projected. According to Alex Adams, budget chief for Gov. Little, Idaho expected to have about $174 million dollars to fall back on at the end of the year; that number has decreased to $69 million.
“You leave a cushion to give yourself flexibility in case revenue doesn’t come in,” Adams said. “So because of the uncertainty, we left $174 million. The new projected end balance is $69 million for the year and that doesn’t account for some of the bills that we know are coming in.”
Adams said that because the cushion is getting smaller, Gov. Little was forced to take action.
“The governor has called it a ‘spending reset,’” Adams said. “The goal is to get spending back in line with revenue.”
Gov. Little’s chief of staff Zach Hauge wrote in an Oct. 29 memo to all state agency heads that everyone is required to make cuts, but K-12 education is the only agency exempt from these cuts.
“Gov. Little’s No. 1 priority is education,” Hauge wrote in the memo. “He has said it is our moral and constitutional obligation to ensure Idaho students are prepared for a lifetime of learning and eventual careers. Gov. Little’s executive budget recommendation not only leaves K-12 schools harmless, but is guaranteed to include continued investments.”
Because K-12 education will not be affected by these budget cuts, many wonder why Boise State University is not exempt if Gov. Little’s priority is education.
“The funding for K-12 and for universities is very similar in a lot of aspects,” said Tony Roark, the interim Provost for Boise State. “School districts don’t typically apply for federal research grants, for example, so universities and colleges have different revenue streams and different financial inputs that public schools don’t.”
Roark supports further investment in K-12 education, but says Gov. Little’s message about the importance of education is rather confusing.
“I think that, to the extent that K-12 public education is not only being held harmless, but in the memo it says that governor little intends to invest more in K-12-that’s great,” Roark said. “I absolutely support that, but it is a mixed message when he says Gov. Little’s highest priority is education and yet we’re planning and cutting funding for higher education.”
Adams is aware of the concern the university has about the budget cut. While cuts fall to the discretion of the university, Adams explained multiple programs affiliated with the university will remain exempt.
“There are a couple exceptions for higher ed,” Adams said. “One of the programs that the state has is the Opportunity Scholarship, which provides scholarships to deserving Idaho students to help offset the cost of tuition. The governor made record investment adding $7 million to this Opportunity Scholarship Fund. That program would be held harmless.”
Adams explained the other program related to higher education that would be held harmless is graduate medical education.
“The state invests in medical residency throughout the state that increases our physician workforce,” Adams said. “We have one of the lowest rates in terms of physicians per capita, which is why that program would be held harmless this year as well.”
In response to university budget cuts, Boise State president Marlene Tromp sent a memo to all faculty assuring them that discussions of spending resets can be difficult, but they will not change the foundation of the university.
“Discussion of budget reductions can be genuinely difficult, but our goal is to respond thoughtfully, creatively and innovatively,” Tromp wrote. “One thing remains as clear to me today as it was the first day I visited campus for my interview — Boise State is resilient. Innovation and creativity are core to our character — and these attributes help us face challenges and have fueled our unique trajectory in Idaho and in the nation.”