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‘Both cannot pass:’ 12 JFAC members rebel against Idaho’s bare-bones maintenance budgets

JFAC Co-Chairman Sen. C. Scott Grow, R-Eagle, at the State Capitol building on Jan. 23.  (Otto Kitsinger/For the Idaho Capital Sun)
By Clark Corbin Idaho Capital Sun

Twelve of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee’s 20 members rebelled against the legislative committee’s co-chairs on Friday, going around committee leaders to pass new, standalone budgets that are in direct competition with the bare-bones maintenance budgets JFAC passed Jan. 16.

In the short term, Friday’s budget votes suggest a majority of JFAC members rejected the way JFAC’s co-chair broke the budgets into different pieces this year, separating maintenance of operations budgets from the new spending requests.

Friday’s budget showdown also raises significant questions about the prospects for the fiscal year 2025 budget and the next moves for legislative leaders and JFAC members.

For example, Friday’s action creates a situation where the full Idaho House of Representatives and Idaho Senate may soon have to make a choice between competing budgets for some of the same state agencies.

“Both cannot pass,” Rep. Britt Raybould, R-Rexburg, told the Idaho Capital Sun after Friday’s meeting.

Idaho’s budget-setting process is undergoing multiple changes this year

Friday’s budget showdown is the latest development amid a string of significant changes to JFAC’s budget procedures.

One of the changes calls for splitting the budgets up into new ways for the first time.

On Jan. 16, JFAC passed 10 bare-bones budgets that included nearly all state agencies lumped together. JFAC’s co-chairs, Sen. Scott Grow, R-Eagle, and Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, said those budgets are a version of last year’s budgets with the one-time money removed that are designed to simply keep the lights on for agencies.

Grow and Horman said the plan was to consider the new funding requests and line items separately, which is what was supposed to happen Friday.

But instead of taking on line items one by one to supplement the earlier bare-bones budgets, the 12 rank-and-file JFAC members crafted and then passed their own full budgets, which include the base budget, the maintenance budgets and any new line items all together in one budget – not two separate budgets.

Raybould told the Sun she really likes some of JFAC’s changes, including the chance to join smaller budget working groups, and moving the schedule up to begin budget setting earlier in the year.

But Raybould said she disagrees with separating the budgets out and voting on different elements of budgets at different times. Raybould also said she disagreed with labeling the bare-bones Jan. 16 budgets as maintenance of current operations budgets.

“The budget that was outlined at the beginning of the year did not actually reflect all of the maintenance line items that are covered in the budget development manual that was developed between (the Legislative Services Office) and (the Division of Financial Management),” Raybould told the Sun.

“In most instances it left out nondiscretionary, it left out replacement items and other what you think of as sort of regular and expected fund adjustments. Also because we had not made the (change in state employee compensation) decision at the time it did not include the CEC. So I would argue that the budgets that were passed at the beginning of January did not reflect a maintenance budget. The budgets that were passed today reflect a complete maintenance budget that included all of the items included in that maintenance definition.”

Eleven JFAC members, plus Mary Ruckh, the substitute serving for Rep. Brooke Green, D-Boise, worked together throughout Friday’s meeting to pass 14 new budgets for agencies ranging from the Idaho Department of Agriculture, the Commission for Libraries, the Idaho State Historical Society and the Idaho State Tax Commission.

The group of 12 included Raybould, Ruckh and Reps. James Petzke, R-Meridian; Matthew Bundy, R-Mountain Home; Rod Furniss, R-Rigby; Clay Handy, R-Burley; and Sens. Kevin Cook, R-Idaho Falls; Dave Lent, R-Idaho Falls; Van Burtenshaw, R-Terreton; Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree; Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise; and Rick Just, D-Boise.

JFAC’s leaders joined Idaho Freedom Caucus to vote against every budget that passed Friday

After Friday’s meeting, Grow confirmed to reporters that the new budgets JFAC passed Friday do not align with the Jan. 16 bare-bones budgets.

“The ones that passed today were not in alignment with the maintenance budgets (from Jan. 16),” Grow said. “So if the (earlier) maintenance budgets were to pass, then we would have to come back and redo these bills (from today) to put them in conformity with the maintenance budgets.”

Friday’s budget showdown included an awkward dynamic in which Grow and JFAC’s vice chairs, Sen. Carl Bjerke, R-Coeur d’Alene, and Rep. Steven Miller, R-Fairfield, joined with members of the Idaho Freedom Caucus and Sen. Ben Adams, R-Nampa, to vote against all 14 budgets that passed on Friday.

More often, JFAC co-chairs are usually advocating for the passage of budgets.

Grow told reporters Friday he voted against the budgets Friday because of concerns with the process.

“The reason I voted no on those today that were passed is because the original plan was to do maintenance budgets, and I’m still with the original plan,” Grow told reporters. “So to be consistent, I have to vote with what was already proposed and voted on by this group back on Jan. 16.

“Here’s the issue, we hear that there are differences of opinion in the two (legislative) houses, differences of opinion of what you just heard today in JFAC.”

Grow told reporters he didn’t know a majority of JFAC members were bringing forward different budgets until shortly before Friday morning’s meeting started.

“This morning at 7:30,” Grow said, when asked when he learned JFAC members would be bringing forward different budgets.

Grow said that although every Republican on JFAC voted for the bare-bones Jan. 16 budgets, some appeared to have changed their minds as JFAC got bogged down in rules and voting debates.

“Because of that, things have slowed down and that possibly has given people time to think about their earlier vote, and people are always free to change their vote,” Grow said.

Grow said the bare-bones maintenance budgets have been sent to the floors of the Idaho House and Idaho Senate.

These new budgets approved Friday will soon be sent to the floors as well, perhaps forcing legislators to make a choice.

“Then it will be up to how they are handled on the floor by those who maintain the floor,” Grow said. “In terms of which budgets will go first, which ones will go later, I don’t know the answer to that question.”

Meanwhile, Raybould told the Sun that some JFAC members have been having discussions for weeks about what constitutes a maintenance budget and the proper way to set budgets.

“Conversations have been ongoing since the original budgets were passed back in January about what a true maintenance budget looked like and what options were available moving forward to address the concerns.”

Horman did not attend Friday’s meeting; on Thursday, Grow had announced Horman was not feeling well and was excused.

Most of the 14 budgets JFAC passed Friday appeared to adhere closely to Gov. Brad Little’s fiscal year 2025 budget recommendations.

In an attempt to verify exact funding levels, the Idaho Capital Sun asked Legislative Service Office budget and policy division manager Keith Bybee for JFAC’s motion sheets and related budget documents two times Friday.

As of this article’s publication late Friday afternoon, Bybee had not provided the budget documents even though they were circulated to legislators during Friday’s public meeting and were directly used to craft the new budgets.

Grow and Horman have said publicly numerous times that increasing transparency around the state budget is one of their main priorities for the year.

Idaho Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Idaho Capital Sun maintains editorial independence.