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Lawmakers fill $27M budget hole after drafting error last year

January 19, 2018 GMT

Faced with a $27.5 million hole in their transportation budget after a drafting error, Idaho legislative budget writers on Thursday filled the gap with two unanimous votes, even adding interest.

The $27.5 million that had been scheduled to be transferred to the Strategic Initiatives Program at the Idaho Transportation Department on July 1 has now grown to $27,669,500.

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee had to approve a supplemental appropriation to correct the error, because Gov. Butch Otter opted not to include the muffed transfer in his proposed budget. That’s because of Otter’s longstanding opposition to using state general tax funds for roads. He prefers the state’s traditional approach of relying on user fees, including gas taxes and vehicle registration fees.

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Sen. Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville, made both motions on Thursday morning, with seconds from Rep. Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay.

Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, JFAC co-chair, said, “We make so few mistakes that when we finally make a glitch in a bill, and it was our mistake, it’s amazing how one little tiny mistake can keep you from getting $28 million. But we’ll rectify that.”

She added, “We’ve been chewing on this for two weeks to make sure we did the right thing.”

Legislative budget director Paul Headlee said the complex bill was missing one reference in its emergency clause, thus the glitch. “So no funds have been lost, no funds have been miscalculated. Those funds are still in the same place they were in the general fund,” he said, “and this committee has the authority to make that transfer.”

The bill – which contained the original drafting error – passed on the final day of last year’s legislative session and was introduced just two days earlier. The complex transportation funding bill authorized $300 million in bonds for highway projects, extended a “surplus eliminator” for two years to split an unspent state surplus between roads and the state’s rainy-day fund and made several other changes. The bill included multiple sections that took effect and expired on different dates.

The measure still needs passage in both houses and the governor’s signature to become law, but budget bills rarely change once they’re approved by the joint committee.