The co-chairs of the Legislature’s joint budget committee have announced a plan to educate lawmakers about the federal economic stimulus money and its possible impacts on Idaho’s state budget, even as Gov. Butch Otter convenes his own executive committee to sort through the same thing and help him develop his own recommendations. Starting on Monday, JFAC will hold four days of hearings on the stimulus and its impacts, which its budget analysts are now extensively reviewing. “I don’t think they’re sleeping,” said Senate Finance Vice-Chair Shawn Keough. That will give lawmakers an opportunity to learn what’s in the stimulus bill, how it fits in with Idaho’s state budget, and to ask questions.
“It will familiarize us with the various pieces of the package, so that when we get the governor’s recommendations, we’ll be right alongside with him and not behind him,” Keough said. “It’s a great plan. There are so many questions out there - we all have questions, and the public has questions. The Legislature’s process is open to the public, so it’ll give the public an opportunity to get information also. Our staff is a non-partisan staff, and they’ll be working directly from the bill, so we’ll be getting an accurate report.”
Wayne Hammon, the governor’s budget chief, said the governor’s executive committee won’t include any legislators. “That was a conscious decision the leadership and the governor made, in order to protect the separation of powers,” he said. The recommendations the governor presents after hearing from his panel will go before the Legislature to consider, so, “It was decided not to put legislators on there,” Hammon said. “What we’ll actually do is submit almost a revision to the governor’s budget.”
After next week’s hearings, scheduled to run Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 8:30 to 10 a.m. each day, lawmakers will be ready to weigh those, Keough said. JFAC’s hearings also are broadcast live on the Internet, so the public can listen in as well.