Idaho House sends Attorney General Raúl Labrador’s budget back for revisions
Labrador’s budget requested 11% raises for attorneys and staff, which Labrador said are necessary to be competitive
Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador is sworn in on the steps of the State Capitol building on January 6, 2023. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
Without even voting, the Idaho House of Representatives sent new Attorney General Raúl Labrador’s budget back for revisions Wednesday after the Attorney General’s Office budget called for larger raises than legislators are approving for most state employees, including law enforcement officers.
Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee Co-Chair Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, requested permission to pull the proposed fiscal year 2024 budget for the Idaho Attorney General’s Office back to JFAC after Republicans and Democrats raised questions Wednesday about the raises. Nobody in the Idaho House objected, and Horman pulled the budget back before a vote was conducted.
That means Labrador’s proposed 2024 budget will need to be rewritten and then receive enough support to pass the Idaho House and Idaho Senate before the 2023 legislative session adjourns.
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The Attorney General’s Office’s fiscal year 2024 budget called for $1.7 million in additional state general funding to provide raises of 11% to attorneys and staff in the AG’s Office. In a telephone interview with the Idaho Capital Sun on Wednesday afternoon, Labrador said the money was needed to help his office be competitive.
“In order for the state of Idaho to have the best representation in the courts and to provide the legal representation we need to provide to the agencies, we need to hire the best attorneys and we need to be competitive with other agencies in the area,” Labrador told the Sun. “We are losing attorneys right now to Boise and Ada County, where they are getting paid $25,000 to $30,000 more. That is impossible for us to keep up with and keep the good talent in the office.”
Labrador said JFAC understood his request and the rationale for raises when it set the 2024 budget, and he said he hopes to be able to work with the rest of the Idaho Legislature to help other legislators understand the budget.
Raises proposed for Idaho Attorney General Office are for deputies, staff
The raises in Labrador’s budget would be for deputy attorneys general and the staff, not for Labrador personally. Labrador’s salary was set at $146,730 in House Bill 747 from 2022.
The 11% raises for the Attorney General’s Office would have been higher than the $1.20 hour raises for most state employees legislators approved, higher than the 4% raises for most state employees Gov. Brad Little recommended in his budget and higher than the 8.9% raises law enforcement officers would get if they earned a $1.20 hour merit raise coupled with a 6% salary increase.
“I understand the challenges to retain attorneys and the 11% — I don’t have a dispute about that — but my dispute comes when we are giving $1.20 (per hour) to our state employees, which is not even close to 11%,” Rep. Lori McCann, R-Lewiston, said in her floor debate. “I think we need to keep that in perspective: 11% for one and $1.20 an hour for others.”
Rep. Nate Roberts, D-Pocatello, said the Attorney General’s Office also received 11% raises last year under former Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, which would total 22% over two years. Roberts said he was especially concerned because legislators were asked to approve bigger raises for the Attorney General’s Office than Idaho State Police.
“This attorney general’s raise of 11% sends the wrong message to the rest of our state employees,” Roberts said in his floor debate. “I think that we should be doing better for those other state employees.”
Legislator shares concern that Idaho Solicitor General Theo Wold not a licensed member of state bar
Rep. Ned Burns, D-Bellevue, expressed concern in his floor debate that one of the highest paid employees in Labrador’s office, Solicitor General Theo Wold, is not a licensed member of the Idaho State Bar. State records available through the Idaho Controller’s Office indicate Wold is paid $79.15 per hour, which corresponds to about $158,000 per year annually working 40-hour weeks.
In November, the Idaho Press reported Wold had a pending application to take the Idaho Bar Exam in late February.
Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, defended Wold, saying he just moved to Idaho and it takes time to take the bar.
During debate over the budget, Rep. Colin Nash, D-Boise, said that Wold is not a member of the Idaho State Bar as of today.
Even the conservative Idaho Freedom Foundation flagged Labrador’s raises. In its analysis of the AG’s budget, the Idaho Freedom Foundation said the $1.20 per hour raises translate to an average pay increase of about 2.9% on average versus 11% for Labrador’s office.
“Providing an additional 8.1% increase in pay would be a significant jump compared to what is being appropriated to other state agencies,” Idaho Freedom Foundation representatives wrote.
During Wednesday’s debate, House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, asked for information about the number of written opinions that Labrador’s office issued this year.
According to the Idaho Attorney General’s Office website, “As the chief legal officer for the State of Idaho, the Attorney General has a duty to provide legal opinions to certain state officials when requested, upon questions of law relating to their offices.”
Rep. Bruce Skaug, a Nampa Republican who is the managing attorney of a Nampa law firm where Labrador recently worked, said Labrador’s office is issuing more oral advice to legislators than written legal opinions this year as part of a changing system at the AG’s Office. Skaug said he has received advice from Labrador’s office many times this year, but told legislators if they want a formal written opinion, it will take time.
Historically, opinions from the Attorney General’s Office were frequently cited during legislative floor debates or even circulated throughout the Idaho State Capitol. The Attorney General’s Office’s website also publicly archives hundreds of AG’s opinions, dating back to 1892. However, no opinions from 2023 are posted on the website.
“Just as a legislator, I am just somewhat concerned because I depend very heavily on getting timely and thorough advice from the attorney general,” Rubel said on the House floor Wednesday. “It helps inform my decision on legislation, and this session I have yet to receive an opinion in time to utilize it on the floor.”
Horman said she heard legislators’ concerns, and JFAC will redo the Attorney General’s Office budget and bring back a different budget for legislators to consider.
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