An NPR member station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

‘Very little left to do:’ Idaho Legislature plots path toward adjournment as ITD vote looms

Idaho State Capitol building past the old Ada County Courthouse
Photo by Otto Kitsinger
Idaho State Capitol building past the old Ada County Courthouse

JFAC, the Legislature’s budget committee, still seeks to block sale of Idaho Transportation Department’s former Boise headquarters

The Idaho Legislature didn’t wrap up its annual legislative session when it returned to the Idaho State Capitol in downtown Boise on Tuesday following a three-day holiday weekend – but legislators do appear to have a plan.

The plan, in simplest terms, calls for legislators to head back to work on Wednesday to consider a nearly identical transportation budget to one that failed last week and then go at recess until April 10. On April 10, legislators would return to session to see if Gov. Brad Little vetoes any of the dozens of late-session bills that are piling up on his desk.

Tuesday was the 86th day of the session, and legislators picked up where they left off last week – debating whether to block the sale of Idaho Transportation Department’s former Boise headquarters.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee wrote a new Idaho Transportation Department budget, Senate Bill 1461, that is nearly identical to the transportation budget the Idaho Senate killed on Thursday. Like the failed budget in House Bill 723, the new transportation budget also revokes the state’s authority to sell the Idaho Transportation Department’s flooded former Boise headquarters located at 3311 State St.

The main difference between the failed budget and the new budget is a difference of $100 on the budget’s bottom line, said Rep. Wendy Horman, an Idaho Falls Republican who serves as a co-chair of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, or JFAC, is a powerful legislative committee that sets every aspect of the state budget.

A timeline of the dispute over the former Idaho Transportation Department’s headquarters

A dispute over the $51 million sale of the State Street property has divided legislators and was central to the Idaho Legislaturemissing its adjournment target again last week.

In January 2022 the State Street headquarters flooded and was contaminated with asbestos, the Idaho Press reported. That led to the Idaho Transportation Department’s board declaring the building surplus property and putting it up for sale.

In November, state officials told JFAC the state sold the State Street property for $51 million to a group of developers including Hawkins Companies, the Pacific Companies and FJ Management, the Idaho Capital Sun previously reported.

But last month, JFAC attempted to reverse the state’s course. On March 1, JFAC passed a transportation budget that calls for renovating – not selling – the State Street campus and revoking the state’s authority to make the sale.

The decision to block the sale caused the would-be buyers to issue a statement saying they thought they had a deal and are now weighing legal options. The buyers said they followed all of the state’s rules and laws and submitted the highest bid for the State Street property during an open, competitive bidding process.

The move to block the sale also led to division within the Idaho Legislature. Some legislators said blocking the sale, holding on to the State Street property and renovating it is the most financially responsible use of taxpayers’ money that makes up the state budget. But some other legislators said the Idaho Legislature shouldn’t seek to block the sale, which could hurt the state’s credibility and standing in the business and real estate worlds.

Idaho Senate vote on new transportation budget could be extremely close Wednesday

Even though the first transportation budget, House Bill 723, failed on a 16-19 vote on Thursday, the Senate will consider a nearly identical proposal in the new transportation budget, Senate Bill 1461.

Even though the bill is mostly the same, legislators are hoping for a different outcome.

“The hope is that some folks have reconsidered where they were last week and we understand that there is more openness towards moving this bill as it is, so we will send it back over to the Senate and see what happens,” Horman told the Sun on Tuesday afternoon.

Even if two senators change their minds from Thursday, that would still set up a razor-thin margin where the bill’s passage could hinge on the need for every senator who supports it to be present Wednesday for a vote in the Idaho Senate for the bill to pass. There may be extra incentive to pass the transportation budget this time around, though. The Idaho Senate cleared most of the other remaining bills on its calendar Wednesday – meaning a vote to pass the new transportation budget could also be pitched as a vote in favor of wrapping up the session while a vote against the budget could be viewed as a vote to extend the session.

Without mentioning the transportation budget by name, House Speaker Mike Moyle, R-Star, alluded to those stakes as the Idaho House adjourned for the day on Tuesday.

“You’ve done an amazing job today; if we could have had one more bill we could have gone home for a week,” Moyle told House members. “Hopefully the Senate can get it done early in the morning (Wednesday) so we can leave early.”

If the Idaho Senate does vote to pass the new transportation budget, the budget would be sent next to the Idaho House of Representatives for consideration. Margins were also tight in the Idaho House, which passed the earlier version of the transportation budget by just one vote before the Idaho Senate killed it on Thursday.

In hopes that the new transportation budget squeaks through, legislators also introduced plans in new House Concurrent Resolution 51 on Tuesday that call for them to go back to work Wednesday but then go at recess from Thursday until April 10. Going at recess until next week allows legislators to try to override any vetoes that Little may issue while they are at recess. If legislators simply adjourned the session for the year instead of going at recess, they would not have the ability to come back in and override any potential vetoes.

While it is possible House Concurrent Resolution 51 sets up April 10 as the final day of the 2024 legislative session, legislators will not be obligated to adjourn when they return April 10. They could adjourn, or they could simply keep going or take another recess. There is no legal requirement to adjourn the legislative session by a certain date.

Legislators originally hoped to wrap up the 2024 legislative session on March 22, but had to extend their deadline twice after the Idaho House got bogged down in budget disputes and a leadership shakeup and the Idaho Senate killed a transportation budget on Thursday.

Although the transportation budget and State Street headquarters property still hang in the balance, Senate Majority Leader Kelly Anthon, R-Burley, was optimistic Tuesday night.

“I want to express my thanks for all the hard work on the floor today,” Anthon told senators. “We’ve got a lot done. There is very little left to do of the people’s business before we can adjourn or at least take a break to give the governor five days (to act).”

SUPPORT NEWS YOU TRUST.DONATEIdaho Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Idaho Capital Sun maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Christina Lords for questions: Follow Idaho Capital Sun on Facebook and Twitter.