Idaho Legislature preparing to shorten daily public budget meetings for private work groups
Legislators on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee want to set aside more time for private, small groups to work on state budgets
The door to the JFAC committee room at the Idaho State Capitol building on Jan. 6, 2023. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
In an effort to begin setting state budgets earlier in legislative sessions, members of the Idaho Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee will shorten the public portion of their daily committee meetings beginning in 2024.
Sen. C. Scott Grow, R-Eagle, and Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, discussed the upcoming changes during an interim meeting of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee on Wednesday at the Idaho State Capitol in Boise.
“With access to more information at our fingertips, we have decided to shorten the hearing process,” Horman said during Wednesday’s meeting.
“We hope to be able to work more collaboratively because we will have time in the mornings to do the actual work of crafting budgets,” Horman added.
Idaho legislators plan to form smaller working groups to address budget
JFAC still plans to meet for about three hours every morning during the 2024 legislative session. But the traditional public budget hearings will be shortened to approximately 90 minutes. During the remaining 90 minutes, JFAC members will break into smaller working groups to meet behind closed doors to actually craft state budgets.
JFAC members have long met in smaller worker groups behind closed doors to hammer out the process of setting agency budgets. But JFAC members squeezed those working group sessions in during unstructured time, often in the early mornings, over lunch or in the evenings, Horman said.
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Shortening the public portion budget hearings is designed to allow JFAC members to begin crafting budgets earlier in the legislative session and introduce budget bills earlier instead of having all of the major budgets introduced during the very end of the session, Horman said.
During Thursday’s meeting, Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, asked Horman if the smaller budget working groups would meet in public or private.
“It sounds like we are going to do the 90 minutes and then go into work groups,” Ward-Engelking said. “Are those work groups going to be open to the public?”
Horman said the working group meetings will remain closed to the public.
“This is just how we have always done it,” Horman said. “But we now have designated times to do it.”
“What’s different about this is when it’s happening,” Horman added. “Normally we are trying to do this work at 6 or 7 in the morning or over the lunch hour when we all have time to be able to be together because our meeting schedules are so opposite.”
JFAC members will not be able to actually vote on whether to advance or reject a budget in the working group meetings behind closed doors. Votes on budgets will still take place in a public session with all JFAC members participating. However, the shortened public time frame may move some traditional aspects of the budget hearings behind closed doors, such as some of the presentations by agency directors or the back-and-forth between legislators and state officials.
Horman said Wednesday that JFAC’s co-chairs and staff are still working out some details of the changes, including who presents the budgets during the public portion of the meetings and the exact scheduling breakdown between the public budget hearings and the private working groups.
JFAC members are scheduled to get their first taste of the new small working group procedures from 8:45 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. Friday at the Idaho State Capitol.
Additional changes coming to Idaho Legislature’s budget committee in 2024
Leading up to this week’s meetings in Boise, Horman previously discussed some of JFAC’s upcoming changes with the Idaho Capital Sun. Other changes include moving JFAC to a “digital committee” and providing committee members with a device such as a Surface or iPad, elevating the role of accountability audits in the budget process and creating a structure where JFAC members can drill down into the agency “base budgets,” not just the newly proposed line items and new funding requests. JFAC is also discussing placing a percentage limit on the increase in the amount of budgets, Grow said. Legislators hope placing a limit on budget increases would leave money available for initiatives that legislators come up with, such as income tax reduction packages, during the legislative session, Grow said.
The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee’s meetings continue today and Friday. As part of today’s meeting, JFAC members are scheduled to meet at the Idaho State Capitol in Boise at 8 a.m. and then leave the Statehouse for a series of tours and presentations. As part of today’s tour, JFAC members are scheduled to tour the Southern Idaho Correctional Institution in Kuna and Micron’s Boise campus.
On Friday, JFAC members will be back at the Idaho State Capitol for planned discussions on the evaluation of Idaho’s bankrupt Health Data Exchange and an update on the state’s transition to the new Luma business system.
Friday’s meeting and the portion of Thursday’s meeting taking place at the Idaho State Capitol will be streamed live via Idaho in Session.
The 2024 legislative session does not begin until Jan. 8, but legislators are participating in a series of meetings in Boise this month to gear up for their annual session.
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