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Eye On Boise

Fri., Jan. 13, 2012, 7:36 a.m.

Of his 34 legislative sessions, Youtz says recent years have been the worst

Legislative services director Jeff Youtz makes his budget presentation to lawmakers on Friday. (Betsy Russell)
Legislative services director Jeff Youtz makes his budget presentation to lawmakers on Friday. (Betsy Russell)

Idaho Legislative Services Director Jeff Youtz is making his budget presentation to lawmakers this morning. He said the Legislature's nonpartisan staff is down to 62 positions, from its high a few years ago of 69; there are 64 authorized positions, "but I can only afford to fill 62 of those," Youtz told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. "I'm not asking for any restoration of anything, nor do I have any new line items."

He ran through the various parts of the legislative services staff; they include the Capitol gift shop, which is self-supporting. Youtz praised Dewain Gaudet, who runs it. "He's a retired businessman - I pay him minimum wage," he said. "It's kind of a hobby for him."

Idaho was well-prepared for its redistricting effort this year, Youtz said, with special software and more. "Being the organizational nut that I am, we started shopping for it four years ago," he said. The redistricting budget still has about $58,000 left in it, he said. "I'm confident that's enough to cover a consequence of having to reconvene the commission again, if that's the case. ... Time is a bigger issue than money at this point, as you all well know."

Idaho's new "GEMS" bill-drafting system has now won both state and national awards, Youtz said. "We developed it in-house over probably six years, and I think that's how you have to do it," he said. "You have to invest in people that are talented and you have to invest in the technology to make it work. ... The GEMS system has worked extremely well."

Youtz said the Legislature's nonpartisan staff has gone for four years without raises - its pay for directors and division managers ranks last among the 13 western states - and last spring, he sought approval for one-time bonuses to try to compensate the staff. "I was promptly roasted like a marshmallow with the editorial writers around the state," Youtz said, "but you have to do something. Sometimes you have to step up and not just pay lip service to state employees, you have to provide some compensation. So we did that in the spring. It was one-time."

Youtz said he's never seen such tough legislative sessions as the past few years', with the state's budget crunch, and, "this is my 34th legislative session. This past three or four years have been the worst."

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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