Idaho Lawmakers Readopt Funding Bill Vetoed by Andrus

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Even though he made an unusual prime-time television appeal for his education budget, Idaho's Democratic governor was dealt a heavy political blow last week when the Republican-controlled legislature again approved a spending plan identical to one he had vetoed only days earlier.

Both bills call for $356 million in aid to schools--$13 million more than this year's appropriation but $6 million less than the level requested by the governor, Cecil B. Andrus.

Aides to Mr. Andrus said late last week that although it was unlikely he would veto the precollegiate-education budget a second time, he would probably show his disapproval by witholding his signature, thus allowing the plan to take effect automatically.

Until recently, it had seemed that the Governor, with the backing of the state's business community, would be able to persuade Republicans to adopt a more generous budget. The centerpiece of the Governor's plan was the repeal of the state's investment tax credit, a revenue-enhancing move the legislature has shown no signs of supporting. (See Education Week, March 9, 1988.)

The Governor also vetoed a $105.9 million budget for postsecondary education, which, like the precollegiate budget, was again adopted by the legislature. Lawmakers said such legislative maneuvers were necessary because neither chamber had enough votes to override the vetoes.

Legislative leaders said they were forced to hold firm on the education budget in order to maintain a $686 million overall spending plan, which exceeds projected revenues by some $9 million. As of late last week, the legislature was still in session because lawmakers could not agree on how to close that gap.

'A Backward Step'

Within hours of vetoing the precollegiate budget, Mr. Andrus took to the airwaves to plead his case, asking Idahoans to call their representatives to "tell them what you want.''

In his 15-minute address on March 23, he said the legislature's school-aid bill would prevent districts from continuing the progress made during the current school year, when funding for precollegiate education rose by 9.2 percent.

"I do not use my veto power lightly, but in this case, the choice was clear,'' Mr. Andrus said. "We could accept a budget I don't think you want, constituting a backward step for schools, or I could ask the members of the legislature to reconsider their action and try again.''

He said the legislature's budget would be especially disastrous for those districts that were hurt by a recent change in the state's education-finance formula. As a result of both the budget and the new formula, he said, more than half of the state's 116 districts would receive no increase or an increase less than the state's inflation rate--and many would be forced to raise their property taxes to make up the difference.

The Governor also repeated his argument that maintaining a high-quality education system is essential to the state's efforts to attract and retain businesses. Several companies, he noted, had decided against investing in Idaho "because our schools simply could not measure up.''

Many Favor Andrus

Immediately after the Governor's speech, the Senate's president pro tempore, James Risch, and Speaker of the House Tom Boyd, both Republicans, were given 15 minutes to respond.

"We must realize that Idaho doesn't work like the federal government,'' said Mr. Boyd in his speech. "We can't simply print more money when we want it.''

In an interview last week, Mr. Boyd said that although mail and phone calls after the televised speech ran about 3 to 1 in favor of the Governor's position, many people said they were unwilling to raise taxes to raise education spending.

Democrats, meanwhile, played down the political implications of the Governor's defeat.

Marc Johnson, a spokesman for Mr. Andrus, said he eventually may come out the winner in the exchange because "he caused them to vote twice for a budget that will cause many problems for schools.''

He added that a petition drive started by one lawmaker to put the proposal to repeal the investment-tax credit on the November ballot had gained momentum.

Senator Bruce Sweeney, the chamber's Democratic floor leader, said the legislature's Republicans, who hold a 64-to-20 majority in the House and a 26-to-16 edge in the Senate, "operate under a sense of arrogance.''

"They say, 'You accept what we want or shove it,''' he said.

A 'Maintenance Budget'

Education officials described the legislature's spending plan as a "maintenance budget'' that would not provide for any new efforts, including a $300,000 dropout-prevention program proposed by the Governor.

They also predicted that some districts would have to hold back on promised raises to teachers to balance their books.

"It's a very tight budget, and it barely exceeds our goals,'' said Mark Falconer, the government-affairs manager of the Boise Area Chamber of Commerce, which has backed the Governor's proposal to repeal the investment-tax credit.

"We have to just balance our desire to spend with our ability to raise revenue,'' he said.

Vol. 07, Issue 28

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