I have a huge black and white framed photograph of U.S. Senator Frank Church in my office leaning against a desk. He is sitting on a wagon on the front lawn of the ranch in Custer County where I spent many years growing up. Frank is smiling, his sleeves rolled up, thick hair brushed to the side. He looks kind and warm. I've not yet hung this photo on the wall of my office. I've not hung any photos. It is time to. I'm staying here in the Senate, not risking leaving JFAC where there is so much work to do next year rebuilding the lifelines, health programs and schools we have torn down this year.
So I will stay here, voters willing. Our seven Senate Democrats make for a small caucus but we must be mighty. Our four budget committee Democrats, Wendy Jaquet, Diane Bliyeu, Shirley Ringo & I, are settling in together too, getting a feel for each other and how our skills and personalities complement one another. Shirley is brilliant and funny.I have sat next to her morning after morning all year. Sometimes she leans over and makes some wise crack in the midst of something tense. She is like my amazing partner Carol who keeps my spirits up through the hardest of things. Humor is a gift I only wish I had like they do.
This morning JFAC finished setting budgets and we disbanded for now until called back by the Chairs. Now each of the agency spending packages, each harsh plan with its job cuts, furloughs, fragile operations and bandaged programs will now make its way into yellow and blue folders bound for the House and Senate floors. These have to pass both bodies now; huge cuts made while we left over $70 million in millennium funds and $35 million in grocery credit saving unused. Some budgets, like the one for Medicaid, have problems. They are not plans but cobbled together statements of desperation.
Below is intent language we passed this morning. Essentially it tells the Governor and his agencies "Good luck, you figure it out now."
"The appropriation provided in this act and the provisions of this paragraph shall take precedence over any Idaho Statute that is in conflict for fiscal year 2011."
It is not a stretch to suspect that there are constitutional issues with writing this sort of broad authority into the intent language of a budget bill and with allowing the Department of Health & Welfare to ignore any Idaho law they want as we tell them to figure out how to absorb $100 million in budget cuts while still providing medical services to Idaho's most vulnerable children, people with disabilities and those with chronic, life threatening illnesses like cystic fibrosis.
I also guess in all this that Governor Otter will not take kindly to being saddled with this job in an election year.
So this is a first but perhaps this is what happens when a powerful majority votes to gut budgets but doesn't want to be the ones who decide who lives and who dies.