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JFAC members speak out on cancellation of public hearings…

Here are some reactions from JFAC members to today’s announcement that public hearings on the state budget scheduled for Feb. 1 and Feb. 8 have been canceled, and the joint committee won’t take public testimony this year on the state budget:

Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens: “I’m pretty disappointed that we’re not having public testimony on the budgets. If it was up to me, we’d have public testimony on every budget. I think it’s important to hear from the clients, the people  who pay for the services as well as those who provide the services. And we had public testimony on all the budgets when I was in the legislature in Montana. It seemed to work fine.”

Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow: “I think that the public has every right to have access to every part of the process we can possibly arrange, and frankly the referendum issue that came up, came up because of decisions being made without that open process. Now, I agree there are some things that appropriately do go through the germane committees, and JFAC probably wouldn’t be making those decisions anyhow, but I think people greatly appreciated that opportunity, so I would expect some pushback on the part of the public. … I do think it’s way too bad.”

Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, co-chair of JFAC: “I think it was wise. I was a little uncomfortable, but I just was not sure that we could control those people who would come to testify concerning education, because it’s been such a big issue. And obviously we had a lot of other topics and a lot of other things in the budget, but after what happened in November, and the task force going on … I was just concerned. Had there not been a task force, it would have been a different story.”

Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, co-chair of JFAC: “I thought this year it would have been critical, with so many new members, for them to see the face of the handicapped child or the teacher. … I thought  it was important for the new members to see that and feel that, because in my opinion, those were  life-changing events. And I guess I’m really in favor of the openness, of transparency. All that pays off. … Why be mysterious? We’re trying to do the best we can with limited resources. … Given the size of the pie, it’s our job to try to decide how to divide that pie out and how to do that fairly.”

Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, vice-chair of JFAC: “I’m perplexed by the decision. I believe the co-chairs have been leaders in trying to respond to the criticism we get on that committee on not being open and inclusive as other committees are, and I thought we were going in the right direction and it seemed to be well-received by legislators and public alike. So I’m surprised. … I think it’s unfortunate that we’re going this direction. I hope that we think about it and try again in another year, perhaps.”

Sen. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise: “I was not on JFAC the years that they had those quote unquote public hearings. They were listening hearings. You don’t get an opportunity to engage.”

Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover: “I’m OK with it, and the reason I’m OK with it is I know that there’s going to be some work, especially in the area of Health & Welfare and education. We’ve got the insurance exchange thing, the expansion of Medicaid issues as well as the response to losing all three propositions last year on education reform. Given that that leaves money available in the 2013 budget, in the area of schools, I think it’s justified that we let the germane committees deal with that issue before we start dealing with it in JFAC. It’s kind of a policy call, not a JFAC call.”

Rep. Jeff Thompson, R-Idaho Falls: “The hearings that will be taking place will be from the germane committees, as in the House and Senate education committees, that’s my understanding, and that’s where policy is made, where JFAC’s the budget committee. … My understanding is that the chairmen of those committees will be holding hearings on that legislation that they have.”


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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