2008 IEN legislation: “No impact on the General Fund”

Updated 2:40 pm: A few weeks ago, Idaho Reports looked into fiscal notes, and whether there are any repercussions for inaccurate estimates on how a bill might impact the state’s revenue. (The short answer: There are certainly repercussions for the state and taxpayers, but no repercussions for lawmakers and bill sponsors other than dings to their reputation.)

As we’re embroiled in the latest Idaho Education Network drama, it’s worth revisiting the original 2008 legislation that created the network, carried by then-Rep. Bob Nonini and co-sponsored by both Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate.

The fiscal note: “No impact on the General Fund.”

That’s not exactly how it played out.

Here’s a longer break-down: To date, Idaho has appropriated a total of $32.9 million for IEN, of which $11.4 is general fund money for withheld e-rate dollars. (Today, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee voted to take back $3.2 million of that $11.4 million, plus another $1.7 million for the state’s share of broadband services. Read more on today’s JFAC meeting from Idaho Education News.) More general fund money was appropriated for operating costs and personnel costs to the Department of Administration, which manages the IEN. The rest of the IEN money came from the Albertsons Foundation, federal grants and stimulus dollars.

That doesn’t include the $13.3 million in e-rate funds that went directly to Education Networks of America before the money stopped in 2013. And remember, none of this includes unpaid bills to contractors or legal fees. Today, Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said those who provided services under the void contract could conceivably take the state to court, but otherwise, they have no recourse to collect their money.

“At that point (in 2008) it was sold to us as a concept,” said Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, an original co-sponsor of the 2008 bill. Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, pointed out the state assumed federal e-rate dollars would cover 75 percent of the IEN costs, and there was a lot of Albertsons money on the table.

The state didn’t start appropriating those dedicated or federal funds for IEN until fiscal year 2011, and didn’t appropriate general fund money until fiscal year 2013. The first money that went toward IEN was from stimulus money in FY 2010.

We’ll have more on the history of IEN on this week’s Idaho Reports, including how we got to here, and what’s next.

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