Monday, December 1, 2008

Democrats call for targeted cuts

The Idaho Democratic Legislative Caucus leadership responded to Gov. Butch Otter’s order of a possible total of 6 percent in budget holdbacks with a call for responsible, targeted cuts that protect critical services to middle-class Idaho families. “Times are hard and the state clearly is facing a bleak budget picture,” House Minority Leader Wendy Jaquet said after speaking with Otter and Senate Minority Leader Clint Stennett early Monday, before the cuts were made public.

“We need to be as prudent and fiscally responsible as possible. The holdbacks give us all an opportunity to look at what we’re doing and how we are spending and whether we ought to do things differently,” Jaquet said. “But we also need to cut carefully. For example, Idahoans who’ve recently been laid off need opportunities to retrain for new jobs, so this is no time for drastic cuts to vocational and secondary education programs.”

Stennett said the Democratic leadership appreciated the chance to talk with the governor before his public announcement. “We are grateful that we have reserve funds set aside for education and retraining, given the tough economic times we are facing. Tough economies give us a chance to trim where we can, and look for additional savings,” Stennett added. “However, we need to be thoughtful and prudent in our approach to budget cuts.”

At his news conference, Otter indicated that cuts to K-12 public education would be offset through money from the Public Education Stabilization Fund. But Democratic caucus leaders said the anticipated $61 million total K-12 education budget holdback would take more than half of the fund’s reserves, leaving it largely depleted for FY 2010 and beyond.

“We realize that times are tough and that the state needs to tighten its belt just like Idaho families,” said state Sen. Elliot Werk, echoing a statement Otter made in his press conference. “But Democrats will work hard to ensure the efficient delivery of critical services to our citizens and protect middle-class families from any further tax shifting.”