Idaho governor’s budget boosts money for education, prisons

Idaho Gov. Brad Little said Monday that education funding will be his top priority for the state budget, continuing a theme from his just-completed first year in office.

The 65-year-old Republican governor delivered his second State of the State address to lawmakers on Monday in what is considered the kickoff to the legislative session.

Little’s budget limits general fund spending growth to 3.75 percent, a reduction from recent years. His budget leaves a surplus of $60 million and increases the state’s rainy-day funds by $102 million as protection against a possible economic slowdown.

The state spends about half of its budget on K-12 education, or about $ 2 billion annually. Little’s budget increases that by about 4%.

He is also recommending $7.7 million for the second year of funding to increase starting teacher pay to $40,000. Another $30 million will be aimed at increasing pay for experienced teachers.

Little’s budget includes paying $41 million for Medicaid expansion, a volatile issue among lawmakers after 61% of voters backed an initiative in 2018 after lawmakers failed to act for years. Money would come from various state agencies and an existing program that provides money for indigent people who get sick but can’t pay their medical bills.

Little is also proposing $100 million for improving the state’s highway system.

He has budgeted a 12% increase in prison funding to make room for more prisoners, including sending 500 offenders to prisons out of state. Of the state’s larger agencies, it’s among the largest budget increases.

Little has also committed about $35 million to reduce the grocery sales tax burden. It’s not yet clear how that will work out with lawmakers.

Lawmakers in the House and Senate now begin work on this year’s legislative session that’s expected to last about three months. Big issues expected to dominate include paying for the voter-approved Medicaid expansion, education funding, property taxes, infrastructure, possible changes to the ballot initiative process and paying for prisons. (AP)

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