JFAC has started its agency budget hearings this morning, with the Legislative Services Office up first. Legislative Services Director Jeff Youtz said the LSO has a unique staff structure for a state Legislature, with all divisions, including, research and bill-drafting, audits and information technology for both House and Senate, under a single director; it’s been that way since 1994. “We used to have separate agencies and separate directors,” said Youtz, who’s been with the Legislature for 36 years. “It didn’t work very well, I don’t think. I think the Legislature was very wise in putting the staff structure together.” He said he frequently gets inquiries from other states about how it works.
Idaho’s LSO staff is non-partisan, which Youtz said allows it to provide needed information to lawmakers “that you need to do your job, regardless of what your politics or agenda are.” He said, “Whether you’re a Democrat, Republican, or a Martian – we’ll support you.”
Among the duties LSO has taken over since the Capitol renovation: The Capitol tours program, which operates with 30 volunteer tour guides and now brings 10,000 visitors through the Capitol each year. “We get a lot of 4th graders through here, because that’s the Idaho history curriculum year,” Youtz said. There also have been visitors each year from about 30 states and 15 foreign countries. LSO also oversees the garden-level Capitol gift shop, which manager Dewain Gaudet has made “self-supporting from the beginning,” Youtz said.
The number of positions in the research and legislation division, which includes bill-drafting, and the budget and policy division, which includes JFAC staff, is the same now as it was 25 years ago, Youtz said. “It’s the smallest research staff in the country. I don’t know how they do it, but they do a wonderful job.”
For next year, LSO is requesting a maintenance-level budget that reflects a 2.2 percent increase, mostly due to increased health insurance costs, and no new positions. The agency is at 64 full-time positions now, down from 71 at its high.
Youtz drew a round of applause from the committee at the end of his presentation; it was his last, as he plans to retire before next year’s legislative session. “We’ve always known we could count on you to do what was needed to be done for us to be successful, and still be good to work with, nice to work with,” JFAC Co-Chair Maxine Bell told Youtz. “And I hope you continue to find the big fish and never miss us for a minute.”