The Idaho Legislature’s powerful Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee held its first meeting of the year Tuesday, with the panel’s new chairpersons warning committee members about the workload they face in setting the state budget.
As the budget committee, JFAC controls the purse strings and wields influence that comes with that responsibility. JFAC is the only committee that meets daily, whereas the bulk of legislative committees meet every other day or twice a week.
JFAC is unusual because it includes members of both the Idaho Senate and Idaho House of Representatives, and the committee is responsible for setting each aspect of the state’s nearly $5 billion budget.
JFAC’s work drives the length of the legislative session. The committee will spend the next six weeks conducting budget hearings and then spend the six weeks after that setting the budgets themselves.
Altogether, JFAC members are bracing to write 108 different budget appropriations, plus any supplemental budget requests from Gov. Brad Little or state agencies.
“You will find this is different than any other committee you serve on,” Sen. Scott Grow, the Eagle Republican who serves as one of two JFAC co-chairs, told committee members Tuesday.
“Nobody goes home until we get all of our 108 budgets across both floors and signed by the governor,” Grow added.
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Like the rest of the Idaho Legislature, JFAC is also experiencing significant turnover and leadership changes. Both of JFAC’s co-chairs — Grow and Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls — are in charge of the committee for the first time. In addition, 12 of JFAC’s 20 members weren’t on the committee last year.
“We appreciate that each of you in this room chose to be here, wants to be here, even knowing the workload that comes with the privilege of serving in this room and with a phenomenal staff,” Horman told committee members Tuesday.
Horman told JFAC members she wears a widow’s mite on a necklace to remind herself that many Idaho families have to make sacrifices to pay their taxes.
“It’s easy to fall into the trap in this committee of thinking in terms of millions and billions of dollars, but never forget the value of a single dollar to an Idaho family,” Horman said.
JFAC’s first major budget hearing happens next week in the Idaho Legislature
There won’t be much opportunity for first-time JFAC members to ease into their new roles. The action picks up considerably next week with one of the first major budget hearings of the year. On Jan. 17, JFAC will conduct a budget hearing for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare budget has surpassed the public school budget as the state’s largest expense, and the budget proposal for the Medicaid Division is expected to be scrutinized closely by conservative legislators.
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In a meeting with reporters last week at the Idaho State Capitol, House Speaker Mike Moyle, R-Star, and Senate President Pro Tem Chuck Winder, R-Boise, said they have been alarmed by the increases in Medicaid expenses.
This year’s Medicaid budget totals about $4 billion, with about 70% of the money coming from federal funds.
Moyle and Winder said reversing or restricting Medicaid expansion is not off the table. But Democrats, including Rep. Lauren Necochea, D-Boise, said repealing Medicaid expansion is a nonstarter and reminded Republicans that Idaho voters are the ones who approved Medicaid expansion. More than 60% of Idaho voters approved a 2018 ballot initiative that expanded Medicaid coverage to about 100,000 low-income Idahoans under age 65.
Medicaid expansion is coming up on a five-year review, which is why GOP legislators are gearing up to scrutinize the program and budget.
2023 Idaho legislative session is underway
The 2023 legislative session began Monday with Gov. Brad Little’s annual State of the State address. Legislative leaders are targeting March 24 as a goal for adjourning the session, although there is no requirement to end the session by a certain deadline. Generally, legislative sessions run for about 75-85 days, but can vary greatly. In November, Idaho voters approved Senate Joint Resolution 102, an amendment to the Idaho Constitution that allows the Idaho Legislature to call itself back into session any time it wants. Previously, only Idaho’s governor had the authority to call a special session of the Idaho Legislature.
The legislative session continues Wednesday at the Idaho State Capitol. JFAC will meet again Wednesday, and the House State Affairs Committee is scheduled to consider introducing the first abortion-related bill of the session on Wednesday morning.