April 24, 2024

Idaho’s finance budgeting committee embarks on new process

BOISE, Idaho — Government processes can be a little dull. Despite that sentiment, there is a push to simplify the process and workload for the crucial budgeting committee simplified.

“It’s how I start these presentations I’ve been doing. Who likes to sit for three hours when they first get to work and listen to PowerPoints,” said Rep. Wendy Horman, Co-Chair of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC) is the team tasked with crafting budgets before they’re submitted to the rest of the lawmakers for approval. Those budgets now have a new, simplified process to go through.

“We’re really excited about these changes,” Horman said.  

Chair Horman touched on the marathon 3-hour budget PowerPoint presentations that state agencies would then forward to JFAC. In 2024, a new process.

“Agencies will still submit PowerPoints, but they won’t present them. What they will do instead is stand before the committee and respond to questions about their PowerPoint. Any aspect of their budget,” Horman said. “Members of the Joint Finance and Appropriation Committee are going to have to do their homework in advance of the committee this year. We think that’s a good thing. And so, yes, that’s a great analogy. Instead of a lecture model, it’s much more interactive.”

Additionally, lawmakers, lobbyists and members of the public can follow along online. To enable that, the legislature has worked with the Idaho Controller’s Office to create a webpage that hosts meetings, documents and full presentations.

“We will still be working three hours every morning, but only about 90 minutes of that will be spent in presentations and conversation,” Horman said.   

The remaining portion of the time, JFAC members will work in smaller groups to analyze budgets and create ideas. The joint nature of the committee means the House and Senate will work together, and their schedules often align very differently. The new workflow aims to address that.

“Every member of the legislature works on their bills, on their own time in the Joint Finance and Appropriation Committee. We need to work together. And so just accommodating a dedicated time in the morning for that work to happen is the goal here. It’s legislators and our analysts only,” Horman said.   

Every cent matters in budgeting. Just ask House Speaker Mike Moyle.

“Yep, it matters. And you don’t think so? Look at what’s going on in your daily life. Everything we do here matters in your life,” Moyle said.

Moyle sees the changes as a move in the right direction, on several fronts.

“I think it’s great changes. I support them wholeheartedly. I think that getting those budgets started on the front end will help people see them, understand them better, and get us out of here earlier too,” Moyle said. “A lot of times we get to the end of the session and stuff is getting passed and thrown out some of those budgets that we don’t understand. Has it been time to go through it? It’s rushed. So I love what they’re doing.”

One particular question coming into the session: Does the split of the 3-hour work session put work behind closed doors? Lawmakers say no. In fact, they believe new JFAC processes are more transparent than they were before.

“One of the concerns of some of the press was that it was going to limit their stuff and now you’re going to have more access now and you’re going to know the budgets better now, and you’re not going have to carry around a big book,” Moyle explained. “It’s all going to be more accessible.”

Horman agrees and explains that JFAC’s work is neither secret nor private, and that some of the work simply happens outside of the JFAC committee room. Something not uncommon for lawmakers.  

“No voting in private. We don’t do that. No, but there will be conversation about what each informal group should recommend to the full committee. And then the full committee will make the decision in public,” Horman said.  

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