Budget committee passes fix for public defense funding
By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports
The joint budget committee took action on Thursday to fix a potential public defense funding issue in this year’s property tax bill.
Gov. Brad Little vetoed the property tax bill on Monday, but both chambers voted to override the veto. On Tuesday, the House introduced the trailer bill to fix some of the issues that Little cited in his veto, but in the process, eliminated interim state funding to counties to pay for public defense until the state takes over those services.
The bill and its accompanying trailer bill, taken together, eliminated sales tax distribution and state funding for counties to pay for public defense in fiscal year 2024. The package did give $36 million to the State Public Defense Fund, though the state won’t take over public defense from the counties until fiscal year 2025. There was also no mechanism to distribute that money to counties.
During a Thursday morning meeting, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee introduced a bill to transfer the $36 million from the Public Defense Fund to the State Tax Commission to distribute to counties for public defense. Keith Bybee, budget and policy analyst for the Legislative Services Office, said the tax commission is the appropriate body because it was already set up to distribute the counties’ share of state sales tax revenue for public defense during the transition.
The tax commission will distribute the funding to Idaho’s 44 counties based on each county’s indigent defense spending during county fiscal year 2021.