Idaho Legislature increased own funding by some of the highest levels of any state agency
Lawmakers said increases were necessary for interim committees, special session, lawsuits
The Idaho House of Representatives in session at the Idaho Capitol on April 6, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
During the 2021 session, the Idaho Legislature increased its own funding by some of the highest levels of any state government agency while rejecting millions of dollars in federal stimulus money and grants.
Total Idaho general fund appropriations for the 2022 budget year are growing by 4% compared to last year, according to general fund comparison of the fiscal year 2021 and fiscal year 2022 budgets by the Division of Financial Management.
2022 Idaho general fund budget comparison
Department or state agency: change from 2021 original budget appropriation
Public school support: 3.8%
Colleges and universities: 2%
Office of the State Board of Education: 7.4%
Catastrophic Health Care Program: 142.8%
Idaho Department of Health and Welfare: -.1%
Idaho Department of Correction: .7%
Judicial branch: 3.6%
Department of Juvenile Corrections: 2.6%
Idaho State Police: 22.5%
Department of Environmental Quality: .8%
Idaho Department of Lands: 11.3%
Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation: 2.3%
Idaho Department of Water Resources: 8.5%
Idaho Department of Agriculture: 3.7%
Idaho Department of Commerce: 1.4%
Industrial Commission: 0%
Idaho Department of Labor: 1.6%
Department of Administration: .2%
Attorney General: 4.1%
State Controller: 19.5%
Executive office of the governor: 1.6%
Senate Bill 1033, funding for the Idaho House and Senate: 26%
Legislative Services Office: 26.2%
Lieutenant governor: .5%
State Tax Commission: 1.5%
Secretary of State: -7.6%
State Treasurer: .7%
Source: Idaho Division of Financial Management
At the same time, funding for the Idaho House of Representatives and Idaho Senate is increasing by 26% through Senate Bill 1033 alone, due to an increase in interim committees and a special session.
Idaho legislators rejected $46 million in federal grants and stimulus funds
Legislators refused federal funding already approved for Idaho that would have benefited schools and early childhood programs.
On April 27, House Republicans killed Senate Bill 1210, which would have provided $40 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding for COVID-19 testing in schools. Supporters noted it would be optional for schools to participate in the testing program, which could have helped schools stay open and more quickly identify and respond to outbreaks.
But House conservatives painted the program as an expansion of big government and a way to collect more data on children.
“Forty million to pay for lab tests? I have a problem with this in our schools,” Rep. Heather Scott said in floor debate April 27.
On March 2, the House killed House Bill 226, which would have provided $6 million in federal grants for early childhood education in Idaho. The original bill failed on a razor-thin 34-36 margin.
Again, House conservatives said they had sticker shock, wanted to reign in spending and said the costs of the federal stimulus packages would add to the national deficit.
During the closing days of the session before the House took another recess May 12, the House declined to take up and vote on Senate Bill 1193, the rewritten bill containing the $6 million.
Pressed about the $6 million during a Thursday press conference, Speaker of the House Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said the House had already voted on the issue once and wasn’t going to go down that road again.
“Take my word for it, the votes were not there,” Bedke said.
Technically speaking, the bill is still sitting on the House’s reading calendar if the Legislature reconvenes later this year.
In previous Idaho Capital Sun reporting, Gov. Brad Little’s budget director said it’s unusual for the state to reject or return money already approved for use in Idaho.
“This is my third session as budget director, and I can’t say I can readily recall a time which we didn’t accept federal funds for a specific purpose until this year,” Division of Financial Management Administrator Alex Adams said during a telephone interview earlier this month.
Any federal funds Idaho rejects can be available for Congress to send elsewhere.
The Legislature cut $2.5 million from the higher education budgets
On April 7, the second day after returning from recess, the House killed the $315 million higher education budget. Republicans cited anecdotes to claim universities, particularly Boise State University, were promoting a social justice ideology.
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Legislators rewrote the higher education budget and reduced funding for Boise State, Idaho State University and University of Idaho by a combined $2.5 million after legislators cited the social justice debate. Overall, higher education funding increased by 2% over last year. But that was a smaller increase than the 2.6% increase from the original budget bill, Senate Bill 1179. Gov. Brad Little had also recommended a 2.6% funding increase.
Funding for the Legislature increased by a higher rate than almost every other government agency
Some of the same Republicans who argued in favor of reigning in spending and governing with the lightest touch possible also voted in favor of increasing budgets connected to the Legislature.
Many agencies and branches of government will receive modest funding increases for 2022, or in some cases remain flat or see a slight decrease. Public schools get a 3.8% increase, the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation will get a 2.3% increase, The Department of Agriculture gets a 3.7% increase and Idaho State Police gets a 22.55% increase.
Funding for the House and Senate go up 26% through one bill alone, and there are several others that increase funding connected to the Legislature or would have increased funding if the bill passed.
Senate Bill 1033 increases funding for the Idaho House of Representatives and the Idaho Senate by $1.7 million every year going forward. That’s an increase of 26% compared to the current year’s budget. According to the bill’s statement of purpose, the increase was necessary “because year-end fund balances have been declining significantly over the past several years due to an increased number of interim committees, working groups and a special session.”
The bill passed quickly without any debate.
Rep. Rick Youngblood, the Nampa Republican who sponsored the bill, explained how the funding works. The expenses are authorized by Senate President Pro Tempore Chuck Winder, R-Boise, and Bedke. Funding comes from quarterly transfers out of the state’s general fund.
Youngblood pointed out there were previous increases of 29% in 2002 and 21% in 2009.
He then asked the House to pass the bill “to continue the operations of our Senate and House of Representatives.”
It passed 59-8, with eight of the most conservative members of the House voting against it. But none of them debated or questioned the spending increase on the floor.
Idaho’s Legislative Legal Defense Fund gets a boost
Senate Bill 1022, spends $4 million to bolster the Legislative Legal Defense Fund. The fund was created in 2012 to be used for legal expenses incurred by the Legislature, such as when a law was challenged in court or when the Legislature utilizes outside private legal services.
In her floor debate March 18, Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee, said the balance of the House’s portion of the account was down to zero dollars.
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“As you know, we’ve gone through some recent lawsuits and as a Legislature, we don’t choose to be sued, and we don’t go out to sue others,” Troy said in her floor debate.
“This is a bill that really is going to allow the Legislature to continue to operate as an equal branch of government,” Troy added. “As I mentioned before, the Idaho Legislature is stretching our wings to be considered an equal branch of the three branches of government.”
House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, attempted to question some of the fees for external legal services and ended up opposing the bill.
Rep. Colin Nash, D-Boise, said the House spent the fund down by about $1 million since Fiscal Year 2019 “by hiring private law firms to litigate petty, intergovernmental disputes,” with Idaho Treasurer Julie Ellsworth over office space and another with Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra over funding for her office’s budget.
“Funding this is showing that we continue to resort to expensive litigation to solve minor intergovernmental disputes,” Nash said on the House floor. “The public is tired of seeing the state sue itself.”
Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, pushed back and supported the funding increase.
“The Legislature does not choose to be sued for doing our job,” she said.
In the end, the bill passed the House along party lines, 57-11, with all Republicans supporting it and all Democrats opposing it.
Another measure, House Bill 397, called for spending $2 million in one-time funding for additional renovations to Statehouse offices. The bill drafters said they hoped to recover the state costs by tapping into federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 funding. The bill passed the House 54-10 on May 4, but the Senate never voted on it on the floor and the bill died.
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