Passing a balanced state budget – determining how the taxpayers’ money should be spent on state services in the coming year – is the most basic task of the Idaho Legislature each year, one required by the state Constitution. But Idaho Statesman reporter Bill Dentzer reports that increasingly, a group of Idaho lawmakers just votes no on routine appropriation bills. He analyzed the votes on 91 appropriations bills this year, and found that the top naysayers all were House Republicans, including five from North Idaho and one member of the House’s GOP leadership, Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa.
“The naysayers almost never get their way, but their opposition occasionally imperils budgets for seemingly noncontroversial programs or measures,” Dentzer writes. “Especially within the House, where lawmakers vote no most often, their reflexive opposition splinters coalitions, gives rise to friction and breeds resentment among colleagues who support appropriations in the interest of good government, even when they might take issue with the amounts or policies involved.”
Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, whom Denzter found voted against 43 of the 91 appropriation bills, opposing 84 percent of all state spending and topping the list, said he wants to shrink government. “You don’t have to be against the principle or the program,” he told the Statesman. “The program can be useful, but is it wasteful? Is it too expensive?”
Corey Cook, dean of Boise State University’s School of Public Service, said the move reflects Congress, which can’t pass budgets and has become gridlocked, “It’s a really difficult leadership challenge,” Cook said. “These are fairly straight-forward governing tasks. These are appropriations bills.”
Dentzer listed the top 10 naysayers, based on amounts of state spending opposed, as Barbieri; Reps. Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton; Kathy Sims, R-Coeur d’Alene; Gayle Batt, R-Wilder; Heather Scott, R-Blanchard; Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home; Steven Harris, R-Meridian; Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay; Ron Nate, R-Rexburg; and Brent Crane, R-Nampa.
His full report is online here. He notes that all the budget bills these lawmakers opposed passed, but this year’s session showed what happens if they don’t: The state Arts Commission budget was initially defeated in the House, when roughly half of House Democrats, in a protest vote, voted no along with the anti-spending Republicans. The budget was rewritten – and $200 more added – and it passed.