Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin presides over the Senate at the Idaho Capitol on April 6, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin on Monday said her office’s budget is balanced, just hours before she received a new budget-deficit warning from a state budget administrator.
First thing Monday morning, McGeachin, who is running for governor in the May 17 Republican primary election, issued a news release that she said was in response to “misinformation.”
“The media continues to manufacture controversy where none exists,” McGeachin’s statement read. “The Lt. Governor’s office budget is balanced.”
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“Our office has made the necessary cuts and adjustments to cover those costs, and Idaho taxpayers will not need to provide any additional funding for this office,” McGeachin wrote Monday.
Four hours after McGeachin issued her statement, Idaho Division of Financial Management administrator Alex Adams emailed McGeachin to warn her that she has $8,909.94 left in her budget for the 2021 fiscal year that ends June 30, according to public records obtained by the Idaho Capital Sun. Adams estimated McGeachin’s payroll costs for the remainder of the fiscal year are $10,977.77, which would leave a deficit of $2,067.83.
McGeachin has previously agreed to let the state withhold her salary and benefits to avoid a shortfall. But in his email Monday, Adams told McGeachin there may be laws preventing the state from withholding her salary.
“I wanted to update you on one concern that was raised to DFM regarding this plan,” Adams wrote. “Section 59-501, Idaho Code, establishes the Lt. Governor’s salary in statute, and Section 27, Article 5 of the Constitution places some limit on the ability to diminish Constitutional officer salaries mid-term. There’s an ongoing review of the ability to close the deficit based on these laws and the process to do so.”
Adams described the situation as “unprecedented” and said he would update McGeachin on developments as they review their options.
McGeachin is now working without a paid staff and the state has paused vendor payments from her office, all in an effort to help avoid a budget shortfall.
Idaho runs on a fiscal year calendar that runs from July 1 to June 30 each year.
State budget officials have been warning McGeachin about her budget for almost two months
For the last six weeks, multiple state officials and budget analysts have been warning McGeachin about a projected budget shortfall for her office. Several media organizations, including Boise State Public Radio, the Idaho Statesman and the Sun have obtained public records such as emails and state memos that document the projected deficit.
As McGeachin alluded to in her statement, her budget issues came up after McGeachin lost a lawsuit the Idaho Press Club filed to obtain access to public records related to McGeachin’s 2021 education task force, which McGeachin said she created to root out what she described as “indoctrination” in Idaho public schools.
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An Idaho district judge ordered McGeachin to release the records, which were overwhelmingly critical of McGeachin and her task force, and ordered McGeachin to pay the Idaho Press Club’s legal costs and fees of $28,973.84.
In her statement on Monday, McGeachin said, “Idaho taxpayers will not need to provide any additional funding for this office.”
However, during the recent 2022 legislative session, McGeachin unsuccessfully requested $28,973.84 in additional funding from Idaho taxpayers to cover the legal expenses. Originally, McGeachin asked for even more money, estimating she would need $50,000 to cover the legal fees before reducing her request to $28,973.84.
But the Idaho Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee never acted on McGeachin’s supplemental funding request, which died when the session adjourned March 31.
McGeachin also said she asked the Attorney General’s Office to pay for the legal fees, but it declined.
In a statement issued Oct. 14 the Idaho Attorney General’s Office said it advised McGeachin on the public records matter through June 7, 2021. The Attorney General’s Office said McGeacin then obtained her own private attorney and the decisions she made with that attorney are the reason that McGeachin, and ultimately Idaho taxpayers, had to pay legal fees of nearly $29,000.
State records previously obtained by the Sun indicated the state paid the Idaho Press Club’s $28,973.84 legal fees via a check issue in October.
“This entire matter is an excellent demonstration of why government should seek legal counsel that it needs to hear instead of what it wants to hear,” the Idaho Attorney General’s Office wrote in the Oct. 14 statement.
In an article published Saturday, the Idaho Statesman quoted McGeachin speaking about her budget during an April 21 campaign stop.
“Honestly who cares about $2,000… in the lieutenant governor’s office?” the Idaho Statesman quoted McGeachin as saying. “I think more people in Idaho are concerned about their own budgets.”
The Idaho Constitution prohibits the state and elected officials such as McGeachin from spending any money beyond what is authorized by the Idaho Legislature. After she was elected lieutenant governor in 2018, McGeachin took an oath swearing to uphold the U.S. Constitution and the Idaho Constitution.
McGeachin has not responded to numerous telephone and email and email messages the Sun has left McGeachin since April 4.
Idaho Capital Sun senior reporter Audrey Dutton contributed to this report.
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