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Amid budget unrest, Idaho legislators advance new bare-bones budgets

Idaho Legislature Budget and Policy Analyst France Lippett gives a presentation to JFAC at the State Capitol building on January 23, 2024.
Otto Kitsinger, for Idaho Capital Sun
Idaho Legislature Budget and Policy Analyst France Lippett gives a presentation to JFAC at the State Capitol building on January 23, 2024.

Idaho Republican state legislators advanced several bare-bone budgets Friday, in an apparent endorsement of a new budget process playing out in the powerful Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee that has now spilled onto the House and Senate floors.

Nearly all the budgets passed on party line votes in the Idaho House and Senate, where Republicans hold super majority control.

But three Idaho House Republican legislators voted against a bare-bones education budget. Some worried that separating basic funds from other budget areas like new spending requests — which the new process calls for — could result in cuts if additional budget bills aren’t passed.

“If they don’t pass, we’ve just cut education by quite a bit,” said Rep. Greg Lanting, R-Twin Falls, who voted against the bare-bones public schools budget.

The move came a week after 12 members of the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee rebelled against the new budgeting process by drafting new full budgets that competed with the bare-bones budgets. Budget committee co-chairs Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, and Scott Grow, R-Eagle, had introduced the new bare-bones budget process this year.

Idaho House Republicans ousted House Majority Leader Megan Blanksma, R-Hammett, in a closed-door meeting on Thursday. She was the sole member of Republican House leadership to oppose a bare-bones budget earlier in the week.

Lawmakers have not disclosed why they removed Blanksma, who joined two other Republicans to oppose the education bare-bones budget Friday.

The budgets approved Friday must go through another legislative chamber before going to the governor.

“We’ve seen the wishes and the direction that we’re gonna go on these budgets. And at this point, I fully support where we are,” Rep. Matt Bundy, R-Mountain Home, told House lawmakers as they began to debate the budgets.

But even before all Idaho House Republican legislators approved the first two budgets, some criticized the new budget process.

“I’m not going to be feeling that confident about whether the term maintenance is right either,” said Rep. Julie Yamamoto, R-Caldwell, as House lawmakers began debating a bare-bones budget for the Idaho State Board of Education. “On the other hand, we’ve been asked to trust the process, and with trepidation, I am choosing to do so.”

Horman, who chairs the budget committee, said the public schools bare-bones budget would give schools all the funds they got last year, besides federal funds. Advancements to a career-ladder program meant to boost teacher pay will come in another budget bill, Horman said after some lawmakers said they worried about it being left out.

Lanting said he expected to vote yes on some budget bills. But not this one.

“I’m willing to begin the healing,” Lanting said, but not at the expense of “my schools.”

Rep. Jerald Raymond, R-Menan, also voted against the bill. He said he was concerned that the education bare-bones budget wouldn’t fund things that government agencies don’t have a choice on whether to pay for, like insurance and advancements to Idaho’s state-created teacher-career ladder for teacher raises.

Rep. Lori McCann, R-Lewiston, said she’d vote for the bill, but she worried that the bare-bones public schools budget wasn’t complete.

“There are definitely some components to our base budget of K-12 that are not included that concern me,” McCann said.

Rep. Steve Berch, D-Boise, was skeptical of the new split budget process.

“I cannot trust a process that has never existed before, has never been tried, and has such monumental impact,” Berch said.

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This story was originally published by Idaho Capital Sun.