JFAC sending weekly budgets to the floor
| February 1, 2024 1:00 AM
Spending by the Idaho state government has grown 54% over just the last four years.
Spending comes from three different types of accounts — the general fund, dedicated funds, and federal funds. The general fund money consists of most of the sales taxes and personal and corporate income taxes that you pay to Idaho.
Here is a stunning statistic. Prior to this year, the legislature has only ever reviewed just 19% of the total spending. We'd approve the other 81% of the billions of dollars being spent without digging into it. That spending would continue to roll over year after year and never get a review by the legislature.
Many people now admit that the process of legislative review for the approval of budgets each year has been profoundly shallow and amounts to little more than rubber stamping. That's not a criticism of the people involved. It is a criticism of the process.
This year we are changing how we do things. We have broken budgets into the base budgets and then the new requests for spending. In between legislative sessions in the summer and fall, JFAC, the budget committee, will start to dig deep into the base budgets. In the meantime, breaking out the base from the new requests will allow us to spend more time on the new requests.
One result is that it will be more transparent as to what we are voting on. When we approve a base budget, we are generally supporting each government agency at its current service level, but we can now vote differently on the requests by these agencies to spend new money.
Another improvement in this session is that JFAC is setting budgets weekly and moving those budgets to the floor. This allows our fellow legislators to get budget bills throughout the 3-month legislative session so that they have more time to review each one. In previous years, the 120 budget bills were sent to the House and Senate floors in a rush at the end of the session, overwhelming the legislators.
This year the governor is claiming his budget plan will grow government spending by just 2.2%. Unfortunately, he is not telling the whole story since he is conveniently leaving out the dedicated and federal funds from his claim.
For example, some of your $3 billion of sales taxes that went into the general fund last year are not going to the general fund this year. Before the taxes arrive to the general fund, they get transferred to a dedicated fund. Then, the governor doesn't count those taxes as general fund revenue. When the dedicated funds get spent, he is not counting those expenses as general fund expenses.
Over the years, more and more money that used to go to the general fund is now automatically transferred to dedicated funds. In 2008, 86% of sales taxes went to the general fund. In the governor's new budget plan for 2025, only 55% of sales taxes go to the general fund. This makes year-over-year comparisons of the general fund spending useless, and the result is that it hides how much government spending is growing.
If we add back the transfers to last year and the transfers to this year and then compare year-over-year general fund spending, the governor's plan calls for spending to grow in a range of 14-17%. That is much more than the 2.2% that he is claiming. Is that how much you are growing your family's budget this year?
Well, the good news remains that with the changes made in JFAC’s budgeting procedures this year, much of this will be more visible than in previous years. The budgeting process will be more transparent, and it will proceed throughout the session in manageable, bite-sized chunks. We will probably set spending levels more conservatively.
Idaho Sen. Scott Herndon represents Bonner and Boundary counties in District 1. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.