The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee had its first divided vote on a budget this morning, although the difference on the bottom line between the two options being considered was zero. On the budget for the STEM Action Center, Sen. Kevin Cook, R-Idaho Falls, proposed a budget motion that rejected the governor’s recommendation to move one full-time position authorization from the agency’s dedicated funds, which come from individual and corporate donations, to the state general fund. There was no budget difference, as the position would continue to be funded within the budget. “Instead of growing the government, I suggested to keep the FTP as part of the dedicated fund,” Cook told JFAC. Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, seconded his motion.
A substitute motion from Rep. Brooke Green, D-Boise, seconded by Sen. Dave Lent, R-Idaho Falls, didn’t make that change. That was the motion that was worked on by a group of JFAC members that also included Sen. Mark Nye, D-Pocatello, and Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee. Both motions came to $3.1 million in state general funds for the STEM Action Center for next year, a 0.3% increase.
Troy argued against the change. “After being a fundraiser for 30 years … when you start having to raise money for your salary, you start to lose focus on what your goal is: The programs,” she said. “I hate to make this change as a professional fundraiser. You lose your focus.”
Sen. Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville, said, “We went through this last year over $500,000.” At that point, he said, JFAC elected to keep that amount on the dedicated, rather than general, fund portion of the STEM Action Center’s budget. He said he was very impressed with the then-director of the agency, Angela Hemingway, and feared losing her. “Well, it happened,” he said.
Nye said he thought the substitute motion was “much better for the long-term health of the program.”
Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, said, “The STEM Action Center has done amazing things in this state,” both for students and educators. “There have been waiting lists” for its programs, she noted.
The substitute motion then passed, 12-8. Those voting against it were Sen. Cook and Reps. Youngblood, Horman, Amador, Syme, Nate, Giddings and Bundy.
After the vote, JFAC Co-Chair Rep. Rick Youngblood, R-Nampa, commented, “Great discussion on this budget, and no question that the STEM Action Center has been a great agency and doing super, super work.” The budget still needs passage in the full House and Senate and the governor’s signature to become law, but budget bills rarely change after they’re set by the joint committee.
Also set today was the Career-Technical Education budget, which passed 18-2 with just Nate and Giddings dissenting and reflects a 7.2% increase in state general funds. That’s largely because a supplemental appropriation proposed by Gov. Brad Little as part of his “Building Idaho’s Future” initiative was funded at just $125,000 in the current year, rather than the recommended $4.75 million, and the rest, which is for CTE modernization in both secondary and post-secondary settings and for training services at workforce training centers around the state, was rolled into next year’s budget instead.
The budget for the State Board of Education’s Agricultural Research and Extension Service passed 19-1, with just Giddings objecting; it reflects a 1.8% increase in state general funds. And the vote was unanimous on the budget for the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, which reflects a 0.9 percent increase in state general funds; that’s the agency that helps Idahoans with disabilities transition to gainful employment, and also includes the state Council for the Deaf & Hard of Hearing.