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Education, infrastructure are top priorities for Gov. Brad Little in 2024

Idaho Gov. Brad Little delivers his 2023 State of the State address held at the Idaho State Capitol in Boise, Idaho.
Kyle Green
Idaho Gov. Brad Little delivers his 2023 State of the State address held at the Idaho State Capitol in Boise, Idaho.

Gov. Brad Little wants to continue devoting significant portions of his proposed budget toward rebuilding Idaho’s infrastructure, including a massive maintenance backlog at K-12 public schools.

Overall, the budget totals about $5.3 billion in general funds – a 2.2% increase over the current fiscal year, though some legislators within his own party dismiss that number as artificially low due to proposed shifts in funding.

Little, who’s currently serving his sixth year as governor, wants to dedicate $200 million annually for the next 10 years to improve public school infrastructure.

A state report from 2022 found it would take at least $847 million to qualify each of Idaho’s K-12 schools as in “good” condition.

ProPublica, in partnership with the Idaho Statesman,has published multiple stories documenting these deficiencies.

“…we are far from meeting our obligation to ‘maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools,’ as required by the Idaho Constitution,” Little said during his annual state of the state address Monday.

“In one school I visited, raw sewage is seeping into a space under the cafeteria. Folks, we can do better,” said Little. “The can we’re kicking is getting heavier and we’re running out of road.”

That $2 billion total over the next decade, he said, will translate into significant property tax savings for state residents as well.

Alex Adams, Little’s budget chief, said the intricacies of the program will be left up to legislative negotiations. It’s envisioned that most of the $200 million annually would be leveraged through bonds and divvied up among school districts proportionally.

House Republican leaders generally supported the idea in a press conference with reporters following Little’s speech.

House Speaker Mike Moyle (R-Star) said that support is contingent on particular details within the proposal, including whether Little wants to guarantee bonding authority by dedicating state sales tax revenue.

Another point of contention for Moyle is whether school districts would qualify for this funding even if they administer many classes online to students who aren’t physically present.

“We don’t need to send money to a school district where the kids aren’t going to a building, they’re doing an online class somewhere else,” he said.

Democrats also cheered the move with some reservations.

Senate Minority Leader Melissa Wintrow (D-Boise) said clearing out this significant maintenance backlog should’ve been prioritized instead of several rounds of income tax cuts in recent years, which disproportionately benefit the rich.

“We’re very frustrated that schools were put in the back of the line, only to be considered when the pockets of the wealthy were fully lined,” Wintrow said.

Another $200 million priority for the governor would cover the third and final year of repairing Idaho’s deficient bridges that are more than 50 years old.

Colleges and universities wouldn’t be left out. Little proposed $32 million to increase capacity for an anticipated rise in student demand fueled in part by Idaho Launch, a new tuition grants program for graduating high school seniors.

Lawmakers narrowly implemented the program last year. It would get another $75 million under Little’s proposed spending plan.

He and other administration officials announced overwhelming demand for the program,with more than 11,000 applications submitted as of last week.

Little wants another $6.6 million for ongoing prevention and monitoring of quagga mussels in the Snake River,which were detected for the first time late last year.

Should that amount not fully cover what the administration wants to accomplish, Adams said there are several other funding sources to draw from.

You can find Little’s full speech, as well as highlights of his budget proposal here.

Copyright 2024 Boise State Public Radio

I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season.

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