After budget concerns, JFAC reduces raises for Idaho Attorney General’s Office
First-year AG Raúl Labrador’s staff raises reduced from 11% to 7.5% after legislators speak out
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)
In response to concerns raised last week on the House floor, the Idaho Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee has reduced the proposed raises for Idaho Attorney General Raúl Labrador’s staff next year.
On Monday, JFAC rewrote the fiscal year 2024 budget for the Idaho Attorney General’s Office and reduced the proposed raises for attorneys and staff from 11% to 7.5%.
On Wednesday, JFAC co-chair Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, pulled the 2024 attorney general’s budget off the floor of the Idaho House of Representatives after several legislators raised questions about why the Attorney General’s Office was slated to receive bigger raises than most state employees, including law enforcement officers.
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For fiscal year 2024, which begins July 1, most state employees will receive raises of $1.20 per hour. Law enforcement officers would receive raises totaling 8.9% if they earned a $1.20 per hour merit raise combined with a 6% salary increase. Meanwhile, Labrador’s attorneys and staff would have received 11% raises in the original budget that was pulled back.
Two attorney positions moved from AG’s office to LSO for legal opinion work
The newly rewritten attorney general’s budget also removes two attorney positions from Labrador’s office and sends them to the independent Legislative Services Office and assigns them to provide internal legal opinions to the Idaho Legislature. Aside from the raises, one of the concerns several legislators raised last week was about Labrador’s office not providing them with written legal opinions in a timely manner. Other legislators said Labrador’s office is relying more on written legal advice and full written legal opinions take time to produce.
“The two complaints that we heard on the House floor were the CEC (raise) was too high and that we weren’t satisfied with, I would say, the service we were getting related to attorney general’s opinions on legislation,” Rep. Colin Nash, D-Boise, said during JFAC’s meeting Monday. “I think this budget addresses that and kind of provides a compromise based on what the agency request was.”
Nash said the Idaho Attorney General’s Office originally requested a change in employee compensation, or CEC, raises of 15%. The salary increases are for the office’s attorneys and staff, not for Labrador himself. Labrador’s salary is set at $146,730 in House Bill 747 from 2022.
JFAC initially appeared divided over the rewritten budget on Monday. Initially, the rewritten budget appeared to pass on a 10-8 vote with five of JFAC’s eight senators opposing it. However, in the moments following the vote, six JFAC members received permission to change their “no” votes to “yes” votes. With the vote changes taken into account, the 2024 attorney general’s budget passed 16-2.
Legislators didn’t explain why they switched their votes, but there were two other, competing budget motions on the table when they voted, so some of the legislators who originally voted “no” were likely holding back to support a different motion, which became moot when the 7.5% raises passed.
Labrador told the Idaho Capital Sun on Monday that he has a long track record of advocating for the Idaho Legislature to have its own attorneys, and he does not oppose JFAC’s move to send two employees to the Legislative Services Office to provide legal opinions.
The raises aren’t the only increases for the Idaho Attorney General’s Office. The Idaho House and Idaho Senate have already voted to pass Senate Bill 1131, which gives Labrador’s office an additional $25,000 in supplemental funding for the fiscal year 2023 budget, which Labrador asked for to pay for new letterhead, business cards, door signage and website updates associated with Labrador’s new administration.
Why did Labrador ask for raises for the Idaho Attorney General’s Office?
Last week, Labrador told the Sun that he sought the raises to offer more competitive salaries to his deputy attorneys general.
“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.”
But Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, said during Monday’s JFAC hearing that salaries at the Idaho Attorney General’s Office are often competitive with municipal attorneys’ salaries.
The Sun obtained personnel records for three former deputy attorneys general who left the Idaho Attorney General’s Office since September and went to work for the City of Boise. One of the attorneys is paid the exact same salary at the city as she earned in the Attorney General’s Office, one attorney is making much less at the city than he made at the Attorney General’s Office and one is making significantly more at the city than she earned at the Attorney General’s Office.
According to public records obtained from the state and the city:
- Former Deputy Attorney General Rachel Kolts makes $38.47 per hour at the city, the exact wage she earned when she left the Attorney General’s Office on Feb. 24.
- Former Deputy Attorney General Darrell Early now makes $60.39 per hour at the city, a decrease compared to the $78.62 Early made at the Attorney General’s Office, where he was a division chief.
- Former Deputy Attorney General Megan Larrondo makes $56.15 per hour at the city, an increase compared to the $48.73 per hour she made at the Attorney General’s Office.
When a reporter with the Sun told Labrador on Monday about the personnel files indicating two former deputy attorneys general were making the same or less in their jobs after leaving the Attorney General’s Office, Labrador said not all former employees who left their positions left for better pay. Labrador said he is particularly focused on increasing the salaries for mid-level attorneys, whose pay Labrador said often begins to lag compared to city and state attorney positions once deputy attorneys general have accumulated five years of legal experience. Labrador and his staff also said they want to protect the state’s investments in young attorneys and not have them scooped up by cities or counties once the young attorneys have been trained by the state and developed important legal skills and experience at the Attorney General’s Office.
Labrador told the Sun he wants to increase pay for attorneys who have spent a significant period of time working for the state so their pay is competitive with comparable city and county municipal positions.
Will this be the last week of Idaho’s 2023 legislative session?
The 2024 attorney general’s budget will need to pass the Idaho House and Idaho Senate before the Idaho Legislature adjourns for the year. Republican legislative leaders are still pushing to finish their business for the year on Friday. However, there is no requirement to adjourn the session by a specific date.
Last year, the Idaho Legislature wrapped up its business late at night March 26 — a Friday night — and then recessed until the following Thursday to see if Gov. Brad Little would veto any bills. Little did veto two bills, but legislators didn’t have the votes to override them and adjourned for the year March 31 without taking any further action. Legislators may employ a similar endgame strategy this year, where they finish setting the state budget and passing policy bills and then recess for about five days to see what action Little takes on late session bills.
If legislators adjourn for the year immediately after wrapping up their action, they take away their ability to attempt to override any gubernatorial vetoes.
It takes a two-thirds vote to override a veto.
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