Idaho’s budget committee loses integrity

Rep. Lauren Necochea, D-Boise
Reader Contributor

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Budgets are moral documents,” because they show our real values. Allocating our public dollars demands thoughtful, transparent deliberations. Unfortunately, recent moves by Republican legislative leaders have compromised Idaho’s process with serious consequences. 

The integrity of our nationally lauded budgeting process started eroding last year. GOP leaders knocked House Democrats down to just one member on the budget committee, taking away our proportional representation. This month, Republican co-chairs ushered in new procedures, beginning negotiations by cramming through skeletal budgets at the outset instead of studying funding needs first. 

The speed-budgeting spent about $2 billion per hour. This meant many omissions and errors, including one that nearly slashed annual teacher pay by $6,359. My Democratic colleagues rightfully voted against this careless approach. 

The skeletal budgets leave critical initiatives unfunded, such as the LAUNCH scholarships for in-demand job training, interventions for the dangerous quagga mussels threatening our water and upgrades to bridges that pose a safety risk. Small in scope, but still important, are items like guardian ad litem programs, which advocate for children as they navigate foster care. 

Budget committee leaders claim they will add funding, but they have backed Idaho into a devastating default budget. And they made it difficult to resolve harmful cuts. Once a budget is passed, rules require that two-thirds of the committee vote to reopen it, or seven of the 10 members from the House and Senate. This threshold means a “no” vote counts more than twice as much as a “yes” vote. A few fringe legislators have the power to keep slash-and-burn budgets in place. 

What is the supermajority’s motivation? It appears to be about power. Traditionally, House leaders will hold off on approving one budget bill to prevent the Senate from adjourning before they get something they want, and vice versa. The new process yielded a default skeletal budget to fall back on, creating a “hostage” legislative leaders may be willing to shoot, with harmful repercussions for Idahoans.

Additionally, the house speaker can unilaterally hold any bill, including bills that correct budget holes. It’s reminiscent of the power House Republicans in Congress gave each member to recall Speaker McCarthy. Matt Gaetz used it to leave our nation with a non-functioning government for weeks while Republicans haggled over who would become the next speaker. 

These changes put undue power into the hands of a few who can manufacture budget space for their personal agenda items, such as the school voucher scheme that both budget committee chairs have endorsed. 

Idahoans deserve a budget that goes through a fair process and is responsive to constituents. It’s more important than ever that Idahoans speak up about their budget priorities.

Rep. Lauren Necochea is the House assistant Democratic leader, representing District 19 in Boise on the Environment, Energy and Technology; Resources and Conservation; Revenue and Taxation; and Ways and Means committees.

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