Idaho budget writers approved shifting $36 million from dedicated funds to the state general fund to help balance the next state budget. The fund sweeps approved by lawmakers were recommended by the governor. Lawmakers had identified other potential funds with millions of dollars, but those fund sweeps were opposed by House leaders.
The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC) agreed to shift $21 million from the Millennium Fund, which is funded by payments from tobacco companies, $8 million from the state liquor division, and $7 million from the Permanent Building Fund, which helps repair state buildings and facilities.
“This money is necessary for us to balance the budget,” said Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, one of the leaders of JFAC.
JFAC found an additional $16 million in funds from the Division of Veterans Services, Industrial Commission and Department of Insurance. Cameron said those shifts are off the table. House Republicans have opposed those transfers, saying it would be better to avoid one-time spending and shifting and make cuts.
The fund transfers were approved on an 18-2 vote. Democratic Rep. Shirley Ringo of Moscow and Sen. Diane Bilyeu of Pocatello voted no because they opposed tapping the Permanent Building Fund. Bilyeu said there are many needs around the state that won’t see construction work.
Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, said many of the construction projects are coming in under budget and that as the state economy improves, more money will likely need to be spent on infrastructure needs. “I think probably when this economy finally turns around, we’ll find we’re behind in commitments to many parts of government,” Bell said.
Lawmakers are tapping the Millennium Fund for other needs this year, including $50 million for Medicaid and $3 million for the Catastrophic Health Care Fund, which covers hospital bills for people who can’t afford to pay and are not on Medicaid. The fund was established after the 1998 settlement with tobacco companies. In addition to the fund shifts, every year several million of the earnings from the fund pay for anti-drug and substance abuse programs and tobacco prevention efforts.
The fund shifts, like all budget actions set by JFAC, must be approved by both the Idaho House and Senate.