New Speaker of the Idaho House of Representatives Mike Moyle said he supports changing the way the Idaho Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee votes on budgets at the committee level.
Moyle, R-Star, said the change would split the committee votes in two so the House Appropriations Committee members vote separately from the Senate Finance Committee members. He said doing so would build more support for the budgets before they reach the floor for a vote – proactively heading off big floor fights when votes are taken.
“It will make it easier, I believe, to get the votes for budgets to pass on the House floor,” Moyle told the Idaho Capital Sun on Friday. “And, quite frankly, it may make them be a little more careful with their budgets.”
While many of the 108 state budgets pass without issue, sometimes they can be held up on the House or Senate floor. For example, in 2022, the Idaho House killed the 2023 budget for the Idaho Commission for Libraries twice after House Republicans claimed that Idaho libraries contain obscene material that is harmful to minors.
House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, called the potential JFAC voting change a terrible idea. She said splitting the votes would create an additional barrier for budgets to pass.
“That makes it an awful lot easier to obstruct the passage of a budget,” Rubel told the Sun. “It could result in dramatic effect in terms of whether we really get the kinds of investments in education and other priorities that were outlined in the governor’s State of the State address.”
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JFAC is different from many of the Idaho Legislature’s committees because it includes 10 members each from the Idaho House and Idaho Senate. Most committees are separated by legislative chamber — for example, there is both a House Education Committee and a Senate Education Committee.
How does the Idaho Legislature’s budget committee vote now?
The current, yearslong practice is for all of the members of JFAC to vote as one committee on a budget, with budgets requiring a simple majority vote to advance out of JFAC to the floor of either the Idaho House or Idaho Senate. If all 20 members were present and voting, that means a budget could pass out of JFAC with 11 votes, regardless of the breakdown between senators and representatives.
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“If your House side or Senate side votes against it, but because of the combined votes it has the votes to pass (out of JFAC) that’s a problem because it’s going to have issues when it reaches the floor,” Moyle said.
Moyle said the change hasn’t been finalized, but he said he has met with Senate leadership, JFAC’s co-chairs and staff. Moyle said he believes JFAC should have voted separately all along, and said other joint committees vote separately by chamber. Rubel said she hasn’t been included in any of the discussions but has heard rumors of a potential change for months.
Moyle said it would not require a formal change to the Legislature’s rules to enact the voting change. JFAC has already met four times during the first week of the 2023 legislative session. But JFAC won’t have to vote on any budgets until it moves into budget setting mode during the third week of February.
What would change if the JFAC changes how it votes on budgets?
Under the new voting procedures, a budget would have to pass twice to advance to the floor. A majority of House Appropriations Committee members present would have to vote to advance a budget, and a majority of the Senate Finance Committee members would have to vote to advance it. If a budget passed one vote but failed in another, the budget would fail and JFAC would have to write a new budget and put it forward to pass with the two votes.
Rubel pointed out that would instantly raise the threshold it takes to advance a budget out of JFAC from 11 votes to 12. Rather than a simple majority, or 11 votes, a budget would need a minimum of 12 votes (six per chamber) to advance. Rubel said that makes it easier to kill budgets overall. In the past, one member who opposed a budget would need to get nine other JFAC members to oppose it so a budget would fail on a 10-10 vote. Under these voting procedures, a JFAC member who opposes a budget would need to find four other members on the committee from their same legislative chamber to oppose a budget and then the whole budget would fail on a 5-5 vote.
“It may seem like a wonky little change, but if it does happen, I think it will result in a dramatic reduction in the extent to which the governor’s proposed budget becomes reality,” Rubel said.
Rep. Wendy Horman, the Idaho Falls Republican who serves as the House co-chair of JFAC, said she has heard discussions of changing JFAC’s voting procedures.
“It will mean that once a budget comes to your chamber, either the House or the Senate, it means a majority of your committee — either appropriations or finance — has voted to support that budget,” Horman told the Sun. “I think that gives it more strength on the floor of those chambers to know a majority of your committee has supported it as well as a majority of JFAC.”
JFAC meets daily and is facing a heavy workload of setting 108 state budgets while undergoing leadership and personnel changes. Horman and Sen. C. Scott Grow, R-Eagle, are leading the committee for the first time this year. Additionally 12 of JFAC’s 20 committee members weren’t on the committee last year.
This would be the second significant change to JFAC since Moyle was elected speaker during the December organizational session. During that session, Moyle reduced the number of seats for House Democrats from two to one after Democrats lost one seat in the Idaho House during the Nov. 8 election. At the time, Moyle said he made the move because he thought Democrats were overrepresented. Rubel and other Democrats called Moyle’s move a breakdown in civility, saying representation is not proportional.
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