[Vision2020] Otter cutting help for families ... AMID BUDGET SURPLUS

Debbie Gray graylex at yahoo.com
Sat May 19 10:50:07 PDT 2007

Otter cutting help for families
Plan comes amid budget surplus

Betsy Z. Russell
Staff writer, Spokesman Review
May 18, 2007

BOISE – Idaho has a $75 million budget surplus,
legislative leaders learned Thursday, but the governor
is eliminating $1.5 million in early-childhood and
family programs next month for fear of declining
federal funds.

"It's a problem with the funding stream," said Jon
Hanian, Gov. Butch Otter's press secretary.

Among the cuts: $800,000 in federal welfare funds that
Idaho now directs to the Parents as Teachers program,
a program that was highlighted in the "What Works"
feature as part of last month's Spokesman-Review
series on child abuse, "Our kids: Our business."
Contract termination notices have gone out to all
providers receiving those funds, saying their
contracts with the state will end June 15.

It's not yet clear how far-reaching the impact will
be; some of those programs also have other funding
sources, but smaller ones may not. The program
provides education and resources to parents of young
children from before birth to kindergarten.

"There has been no discussion about the merits of the
program," said House Minority Leader Wendy Jaquet,
D-Ketchum. "You just don't, you don't do it this way."

The Legislative Council, which includes legislative
leaders from both houses and both parties along with
other senators and representatives, voted Thursday to
ask the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee to
investigate what's in the state budget for Parents as
Teachers and what the governor is planning. The joint
budget committee has its summer meeting June 4-6.

Otter also is eliminating the Executive Office for
Families and Children and most of the programs it
oversees on June 15, and laying off the state
employees in that office. In addition to Parents as
Teachers, the office includes the Council on
Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention, the Governor's
Coordinating Council for Families and Children, the
Suicide Prevention Council, and more; some of those
functions will be moved into the Health and Welfare
Department. He's also considering eliminating $1.5
million in federal funds that Idaho directs each year
to the Head Start preschool program, which lawmakers
allocated to Head Start in 1999 to expand it to 300
more low-income children.

Lawmakers said they had no idea the governor was
making the cuts until news reports surfaced this week.

"What I know is what I read in the newspaper, and
that's all," said Senate President Pro-Tem Bob Geddes,
R-Soda Springs.

Senate Minority Leader Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum,
asked, "The Legislature passed the appropriation for
the Parents as Teachers – how can that be summarily
dismissed and canceled?"

Legislative budget director Cathy Holland-Smith
responded that the item is within the child welfare
appropriation of the state Health and Welfare budget
but didn't have a specific line item.

The program was started by former Gov. Dirk Kempthorne
through an executive order after lawmakers rejected
it, but they've made no move to remove it from the
budgets they approved each year since then.

Jaquet said, "My parent educator told me that (former
Gov.) Jim Risch signed a yearlong contract with the
federal government. They knew that they were set for
this year. 
 It was embedded in the budget."

Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, who serves on the
council, said, "It just raises a lot of questions, and
I'm certain there are good reasons, because I don't
think the intention of the executive branch would be
to do any harm."

Anderson added, "JFAC will get to the bottom of it."

Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, JFAC co-chairman, who
attended the meeting, said, "I'm like Sen. Geddes –
the only thing I've basically read is what's been in
the paper." Cameron said he was "very comfortable"
with the council's request. "I think we ought to have
the opportunity to review it," he said.

He added, "There have been some legitimate questions
over time about the cost-effectiveness of the
 The executive branch does have the
authority to run their agencies and make sure that the
money is handled appropriately when we're not here in

Hanian said the governor's office has merely been
reacting to a legislative audit that suggested there
could be problems directing federal welfare funds to
the Generation of the Child programs and Head Start.

Though the federal government hasn't objected to that
funding in past years, last year it objected to using
Temporary Assistance to Needy Families money for an
immunization registry and for poison control, and the
state audit suggested these programs could be rejected

Idaho's legislative auditor, Don Berg, was questioned
by the Legislative Council on Thursday, and he said he
hasn't even been able to publicly release the audit
yet because he's waiting for the JFAC co-chairs to
sign off on it.

"It's all alarming news to me," Berg told the council.
The audit questioned the use of the federal welfare
funds, and the Health and Welfare Department responded
that they are allowable costs under the program. "And
now it's a surprise to have the governor pulling these
things," he said.

Hanian said, "We're trying to find and identify what
our options may be, in terms of funding for some of
these programs. We don't have a solution yet, but what
we have to do is get these programs off this funding

Hanian said that doesn't necessarily mean that all the
programs will be eliminated – some other funding could
be identified.

"We've gotten calls here from people who think we're
killing Head Start.

"That's just flat-out wrong," he said.

But the governor did decide to move ahead with the
other cuts.

"The approach was, we're going to do that first and
then, over the course of the next couple weeks, figure
out what our alternatives are in terms of funding
them," Hanian said.

The council's vote followed news that Idaho has an
unexpected $75 million budget surplus for this year,
thanks to a huge overrun in individual income tax
revenues in April.

If that growth proves permanent, the state could have
a $100 million surplus in the budget lawmakers already
have set for the next fiscal year, which starts July

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