State tax revenues run far below earlier projections

By DAVE WILKINS

Capital Press

The University of Idaho College of Agriculture and Life Sciences is bracing for additional budget cuts in the face of reduced state revenues.

State tax revenues for fiscal 2010 are running far below forecasts made earlier this year, state economists said.

Instead of ending the fiscal year on June 30, 2010, with a positive balance of more than $49.5 million as earlier predicted, it now looks like the state will wind up with a shortfall of $151 million, officials said.

The worsening financial picture is sure to affect education spending and the UI ag college. Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter is expected to declare budget holdbacks for state agencies and institutions soon.

"Our state revenues continue to hemorrhage," Matt Freeman, chief fiscal officer for the state board of education, said at a UI ag college listening session Sept. 9 in Twin Falls.

"We're in a very austere budget situation right now," Freeman said. "There's no easy way out."

The UI Agricultural Research and Extension budget of $25 million is about $3.5 million less than what was originally appropriated by the Legislature for the 2009 fiscal year.

Because state tax revenues have fallen short of expectations, it's likely that the Research and Extension budget will be closer to $24 million once expected holdbacks take effect, officials said.

College administrators have been scrambling to make ends meet. A 19-member committee earlier this year proposed the closure or consolidation of research stations at Parma, Tetonia and Sandpoint.

"It's clear we can't keep doing everything we've been doing," said Rich Garber, director of industry and government relations for the college.

John Hammel, dean of the college, said about 90 percent of the Research and Extension budget goes for employees' salaries and benefits.

The college has cut some jobs and will cut more, he said. But it can't cut tenured faculty without eliminating entire programs statewide.

What's needed now is for the college to downsize the Research and Extension infrastructure to bring it in line with a smaller budget and work force, Hammel said.

"Ultimately, what we have to do is shrink ourselves down to fit our budget," he said.

The college has enough money to keep the Research and Extension stations open through the end of this year, Hammel said. He and other college officials have been talking with industry stakeholders about possible ways to keep the stations open at least through the 2010 budget year.

State Sen. Bert Brackett, a rancher from Rogerson, said the state will probably have to tap farther into rainy-day funds and make additional holdbacks to balance the 2010 budget.

"We're going to have to dig in deeper than what we had expected," said Brackett, a member of the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee. "The economy hasn't hit bottom yet."

Staff writer Dave Wilkins is based in Twin Falls. E-mail: dwilkins@capitalpress.com.

Online

University of Idaho College of Agricultural and Life Sciences: www.uidaho.edu/cals.aspx

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