Idaho state budgeting committee meets, surplus nears $1 billion
By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports
The Idaho Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee met Tuesday to review budget requests from multiple state agencies.
The Legislative Services Office outlined a variety of supplemental appropriation requests the committee will need to approve. A supplemental appropriation is a request for more taxpayer funding to pay for an expense that’s incurred after the legislature has approved their budget for the current fiscal year. It requires the state agency to go back before the committee and explain where the additional, unanticipated expense came from.
The committee also heard updates on COVID-19 assistance funding and the state’s revenues. At the end of fiscal year 2022, Idaho had nearly $900 million in surplus funding.
In the morning, JFAC listened to a presentation on the American Rescue Plan Act, a federal COVID-19 plan, and which state agencies had requests for the federal rescue funding this fiscal year and next. In fiscal year 2022 supplemental requests, an anticipated $74 million is set for requests, according to LSO’s presentation. Most of those came from the Department of Health and Welfare.
That includes a $16 million request for additional home and community based care provided under Medicaid. Another request included $2.3 million from the Division of Veteran Services for one time obligations and expenditures to State Veterans Homes.
The largest supplemental request for FY2022 for ARPA funds came from the State Controller’s Office for several issues related to COVID-19, such as premium pay to workers, replacement of lost revenue and investments in sewer, water and infrastructure. The legislature made the Idaho Controller’s Office the trustee of ARPA funds in the last legislative session.
In fiscal year 2023, an estimated $904 million will be requested in the ARPA funding.
Idaho Housing and Finance Association Vice President Brady Ellis presented information on the emergency rental assistance funding.
Between Jan. 19 and Sept. 30, the association has distributed $14.3 million in rental assistance and utility payment assistance. Families affected by COVID-19 and who earn less than 80% of the area median income are eligible for that assistance.
Ellis explained that the funds have helped roughly 15,000 people in 3,590 households.
Recently, however, the association was notified that programs that have spent less than 30 percent will have funds recaptured. This comes with the second Emergency Rental Assistance Program from the federal government. Idaho was allocated $176 million and has only spent about $14 million, which is less than 30% of the allocation.
Ellis said they anticipated that some of the unspent money will be recaptured by the federal government and provided to other states.
The Idaho Housing and Finance Association has worked to make applications for those in need more accessible, and improve marketing the program, should there be Idahoans who do not know how to access the funding.
Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin’s Office
Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin’s office requested a supplemental appropriation for $50,000 due to unanticipated legal expenses. When the Idaho Capital Sun requested a copy of the invoice stemming from her legal expenses, the office stated they did not have an invoice.
Despite media attention around the $50,000 request, JFAC did not dive into the funding request from McGeachin on Tuesday.
The committee has more than $51 million in supplemental requests for FY2022 from various state agencies, so McGeachin’s request is one of the smaller items. None of the committee members questioned Legislative Services about the request.
McGeachin’s office recently lost a lawsuit with the Idaho Press Club after several press club members were denied public record access to public comments submitted in reference to her Education Task Force.
McGeachin initially heavily redacted the public comments she provided to reporters. District Judge Steven Hippler ordered her to release the unredacted documents to the press.
The request for $50,0000 was first reported by Boise State Public Radio.
The request states “the Attorney General’s Office failed to properly represent the Office of the Lt. Governor. Office of the Lt. Governor was forced to find outside counsel following the abrupt termination of counsel and guidance from the Attorney General’s Office after almost two months.”
On Monday, the four democrats who serve on JFAC requested a written summary about how the Attorney General’s Office “failed to represent” her and a summary of how she intends to pay the nearly $29,000 bill from the Press Club lawsuit and her $750 civil fine from the judge.
Idaho Reports obtained a copy of the letter sent to McGeachin (see below).
Additionally, the legislators asked for unredacted copies of invoices or correspondence between McGeachin’s office and her attorney’s office.
The Idaho Press received a copy of an email McGeachin referenced during public comments to the press last week, in which she claimed the AG refused to represent her. The email, which discussed potential redactions on a records request from Audrey Dutton of the Idaho Capital Sun, gave guidance on redacting minors’ names using initials. Otherwise, Deputy Attorney General Rachel Colts advised McGeachin to “produce the full spreadsheet to Ms. Dutton as soon as possible and no later than the end of the business day tomorrow.”
“If you disagree with our advice, you may wish to seek a second opinion from other counsel,” Kolts wrote.
McGeachin sought outside counsel.
McGeachin’s budget request states that if the $50,000 is not allocated, “(t)he Office will have to devote resources from operating expenditures and personnel costs. Including but not limited to possible furlough days of the only full-time employee. Office closure could reduce constituent services.”