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Amid procedural changes, Idaho Legislature’s JFAC cancels Friday’s budget setting meeting

State Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, listens to proceedings on the first day of the legislative session at the State Capitol building in Boise on Jan. 8, 2024.
Photo by Otto Kitsinger for the Idaho Capital Sun
State Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, listens to proceedings on the first day of the legislative session at the State Capitol building in Boise on Jan. 8, 2024.

Disagreements over rules are preventing JFAC from setting budgets, Rep. Wendy Horman says

The co-chairs of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee abruptly canceled Friday’s budget-setting meeting just as the powerful committee was about to implement the next phase of significant changes to how it sets the state budget.

For weeks, Friday has been circled on the committee’s long-range schedule as the first day the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, or JFAC, would consider new spending requests, replacement items and other new expenses in state budgets for the fiscal year 2025.

But on Thursday, Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, confirmed the meeting has been canceled and JFAC will not set budgets on Friday.

Horman said there are lingering, unresolved questions about JFAC’s rules that prevented JFAC from acting on the Idaho Legislature’s Change in Employee Compensation Committee’s recommendations to give raises of up to 3% to state employees. JFAC was supposed to take up the recommendation for the change in employee compensation, or CEC, on Tuesday, but did not take it up because of disagreements over JFAC’s rules that date back to last session, Horman said.

Horman said she and Sen. Scott Grow, R-Eagle, talked Thursday and decided to cancel Friday’s budget setting meeting.

“We were supposed to set budgets starting tomorrow, but we can’t do that until we approve the CEC recommendation,” Horman said in a telephone interview. “Until we act on it, we can’t set budgets. There are some unresolved questions about rules, similar to the challenges we wrestled with last year. Until those are settled between House and Senate leadership, we can’t set budgets.”

Idaho Legislature’s budget committee stalled over rules debate again

The debate over rules has centered on how JFAC votes. JFAC is unusual because it includes 10 members each from the Idaho House and Idaho Senate. Most committees, like the House State Affairs Committee, only include committee members from one legislative chamber or the other. During the 2023 legislative session, House and Senate leaders appeared to come to an agreement over JFAC voting procedures by announcing the results of votes jointly as one committee and separately by legislative chamber. In the event that a given budget received a majority of votes from the entire committee but did not receive a majority of votes from either legislative chamber, that budget could be sent back for reworking.

However, Horman said there are ongoing disagreements over JFAC’s rules.

There have also been public disagreements within JFAC this year about the rules for reopening a budget that has already been set. Horman and Grow told the Idaho Capital Sun it takes a simple majority vote to reopen a budget, while Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, said it takes a two-thirds vote to reopen a budget.

No timetable for JFAC to consider new spending increases in Idaho state budget

Horman said she doesn’t have a timetable for when JFAC will return to budget setting. Moving forward, Horman said JFAC will meet Monday to continue budget hearings, as planned. The budget hearings and budget setting are different. Hearings are informational meetings where JFAC members review a state agency’s budget request and look back at five years worth of budget history. Budget setting is when JFAC members actually vote on specific funding levels for the state agency or department’s budget. JFAC’s original plan was to conduct budget setting meetings every Friday, beginning Jan. 26.

Under JFAC’s new budget procedures for the 2024 legislative session, the committee divided budgets into different categories for the first time. First, JFAC combined nearly all state agencies into 10 different bare-bones “maintenance of current operations budgets” that JFAC set Jan. 16. The maintenance budgets reduced state general fund spending by $46.6 million compared to the original fiscal year 2024 budget JFAC set last year.

Horman and Grow said the maintenance budgets are essentially a version of the budgets legislators set last year, with all the one-time funding and other budget enhancements removed. The maintenance of operations budgets don’t include new funding for new spending proposals for the state’s ongoing response to the invasive quagga mussels that were detected in the Snake River near Twin Falls or funding for any of Gov. Brad Little’s proposed 10-year, $2 billion plan to repair and replace Idaho’s aging, deteriorating public school buildings. The maintenance of operations budgets also only include 1% “placeholder raises” for more than 20,000 state employees.

The next phase of JFAC’s new budget procedures called for budget setting and consideration of new spending increases, replacement items and line items – but Horman said budget setting is on hold while rules debates play out.

Horman and Grow have publicly said the Senate legislative leaders and a Senate clerk have a different interpretation of the rules than House leadership and a House clerk. Horman also said publicly on Jan. 16, “JFAC does not have any adopted rules.”

Efforts to reach House Speaker Mike Moyle, R-Star, were unsuccessful Thursday.

Rep. Brooke Green, a Boise Democrat who is the only House Democrat on JFAC, told the Sun on Thursday that she wasn’t given an explanation why Friday’s budget setting meeting was canceled.

As of Thursday afternoon, the bare-bones maintenance of operations budgets JFAC set Jan. 16 had not yet been introduced to either the Idaho House or Idaho Senate. Horman told the Sun those budget bills were still in the editing phase, noting that it takes seven to 10 days to write and edit budget bills. The maintenance of operations budgets still need to pass the Idaho House and Idaho Senate and avoid Little’s veto stamp to be approved.

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