Lawmakers can tap state experts to get grip on Idaho budget

Idaho lawmakers could have more information at their disposal this year with a new emphasis on sending non-partisan budget experts to House and Senate committees to explain the numbers in the financial requests of the state agencies they oversee.

Committee chairmen meeting Wednesday were encouraged to tap the Legislative Services Office’s Budget and Policy Analysis Division to explain the often complex budget process outlined in the 777-page 2019 Legislative Budget Book for fiscal year 2020.

Republican Sen. Steve Bair of Blackfoot is co-chairman of the powerful Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, comprised of lawmakers from both the House and Senate that must ultimately sign off on agency appropriations.

Bair believes many lawmakers are uneducated on how JFAC works and the processes the committee undertakes to make budget making decisions.

Ultimately, seeking information from the Legislative Services Office could make lawmakers more informed when bills leave committees and come to the House and Senate floors.

The goal is for non-JFAC members to have at least a minimal understanding of the budget process, how it works and have at least a cursory knowledge and understanding of the bill that’s before them that they’re voting on.

The budget process also involves considering Gov. Brad Little’s recommended budget, which in some places varies from what state agencies are requesting and from what some lawmakers in the House and Senate might consider adequate.

Paul Headlee, manager of the Legislative Services Office’s Budget and Policy Analysis Division, says analysts who cover various other state agencies, have done presentations for education committees. But the new emphasis could have his staff frequenting other committees as well.

All 105 lawmakers also have new computers this year, approved through a previous budget process that involves replacing equipment on a schedule, to help sort out the budget. (AP)