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2024 Wrap-Up: The Worst Legislative Session… Ever?

2024 Wrap-Up: The Worst Legislative Session… Ever?

Parrish Miller
April 12, 2024
April 12, 2024

There are too many variables to make a definitive statement that this has been the worst legislative session in Idaho history, but it certainly ranks among the worst. This session has greenlit significant increases in government spending, expanded government, and provided incredibly meager tax relief, even as inflation continues to plague those who work for a living. 

Budget Reform

While we started the session with high hopes for the new budget process, the abysmal results proved just how far conservatives have to go in standing up for the principles of limited government. 

This session, budgets for government agencies were split up into a first round for maintenance budgets and a second round for enhancements, which were almost entirely discretionary spending. The maintenance budgets totaled $12.1 billion and the enhancements about another $1.5 billion. 

You would think it would be easy for fiscal conservatives to vote “no” on most of the enhancements even if they felt compelled to vote “yes” on the maintenance budgets — the budgets to keep the lights on and doors open at government agencies. Some courageous legislators did vote no on the enhancements, but the majority went along with growing government even more. 

There was a modicum of trimming here and there, but the Legislature passed the biggest Medicaid budget ever, a whopping $4.7 billion monster. There wasn’t any reform in this budget. It just continued an unsustainable program that relies increasingly on federal dollars that add to an unsustainable and potentially ruinous federal debt.

Another big miss was the budget for colleges and universities. The maintenance budget provided $684 million to institutions that continue to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion, as IFF has documented. Legislators, not satisfied with giving colleges just the maintenance budget, voted to give colleges a $16 million top-up, effectively rewarding them for continuing to stubbornly push their Marxist agenda. 

We will have more to say about the topics of budgets and spending in the upcoming weeks and months, but from a fiscal standpoint, this session has been a wasted opportunity. 

Beyond the Budgets:

Beyond the shocking lack of fiscal conservatism, what truly makes 2024 such a terrible session is what else was lacking. Conservative victories were in exceedingly short supply, particularly for those of us whose idea of conservatism is still defined by the words of Milton Friedman: “I think the government solution to a problem is usually as bad as the problem and very often makes the problem worse.”

With that idea in mind, let's discuss some of the things lacking in Idaho's 2024 legislative session. 

(The parenthetical notation after each bill represents its score on the Idaho Freedom Index.)

Education choice

Conservatives believe in education choice. Yet once again, the Idaho Legislature failed to advance any meaningful proposals to allow parents and families the freedom to take their education dollars out of failing government schools and to invest them in superior private alternatives. While a few decent bills were introduced, none gained any traction.

“Education spending will be most effective if it relies on parental choice & private initiative – the building blocks of success throughout our society.” — Milton Friedman

A belief in free markets

Once upon a time, conservatives believed in free markets, where government kept its distance and allowed providers and consumers to engage in commerce, free of government intrusion and manipulation. 

Unfortunately, the Idaho Legislature seems to have other ideas. It imposed the heavy hand of government on pharmacy benefit managers (-2), motor vehicle manufacturers (-2), and electrical contractors (-1). Legislators also voted to micromanage how health benefit plans pay for contraceptives (-2).

The lack of support for free markets was also evident in the decision to pass bills to create new government programs to facilitate government-approved improvements to commercial real estate (-3) and pursue a wide variety of grazing improvement projects (-3).

Fortunately, some of the bills that were even worse did not pass. These included proposals to create an Adult Workforce High School Diploma Program (-3), regulate how much a health care provider may charge for medical records (-2), and further tweak the cronyistic and redistributive Launch Grant program (-1).

“Many people want the government to protect the consumer. A much more urgent problem is to protect the consumer from the government.” — Milton Friedman

Discouraging government dependence

Republicans are supposed to oppose the expansion of the welfare state, yet Idaho's supermajority Republican Legislature passed a massive expansion of Medicaid (-5) to trap more people in a destructive cycle of government dependency. The Legislature also chose to create a Medicaid budget stabilization fund (-2) and push for a state directed payments program (-5) under Medicaid, to funnel more money into this bloated system of socialized medicine. 

Speaking of socialized medicine, the Legislature passed bills this year to keep alive the unnecessary immunization assessment board (-2) It also jumped back into researching maternal mortality (-2) after shutting down a wasteful committee on the subject last year. Legislators also expanded government by creating an independent (and unaccountable) office of health and social services ombudsman (-3).

“We have a socialist-communist system of distributing medical care. Instead of letting people hire their own physicians and pay them, no one pays his or her own medical bills. Instead, there’s a third party payment system. It is a communist system and it has a communist result.” — Milton Friedman

Support for free speech

This session, we saw a number of bills passed or introduced to impose government censorship on everything from political speech (-2) and political memes (-2) to mobile phones (-3), social media platforms (-5), and advertising (-2).

While these bills were no doubt created with the intention of addressing perceived societal problems, the proposals all involved imposing more government limitations on our free speech rights.

“Concentrated power is not rendered harmless by the good intentions of those who create it.” — Milton Friedman

A healthy skepticism of the criminal justice system

One of the most disturbing developments this session was the number of bills introduced that included mandatory minimum sentences for crimes, ranging from the severe to the incredibly minor. 

The problem with mandatory minimum sentencing laws is that it is always possible for extenuating circumstances in a specific case to make a mandatory minimum sentence manifestly unjust. Mandatory minimum sentencing laws fundamentally subvert the notion of justice, which requires broad judicial discretion in sentencing.

The Legislature passed bills to impose harsh mandatory minimum sentences for possessing trace amounts of fentanyl (-4), not controlling stray livestock (-1), and unlawfully passing a school bus (-2).

The desire to reshape society by doubling down on the criminalization of vices and speech that legislators find offensive or immoral represents a disturbing departure from a belief in limited government. 

“There is no place for government to prohibit consumers from buying products the effect of which will be to harm themselves.” — Milton Friedman 


To those outside the process, Idaho appears to be a conservative state with a Republican supermajority in the Legislature and a full slate of Republican constitutional officers. For those of us in the trenches, the reality is very different. Affiliated Democrats do represent a minority. But ideological Democrats who style themselves as centrists or part of the Main Street Caucus are a growing contingent that — along with the affiliated Democrats — is pushing our state down the same destructive path that has devastated Oregon, Washington, and Colorado. 

Republicans could have used their majorities to cut spending, pass education choice, slash the welfare state, defend free markets and free speech, and push back on overcriminalization. Instead, Idaho is moving in the wrong direction on every important issue. 

Idaho's 2024 legislative session earns an unqualified "F" for failing our state, abandoning conservative values, and expanding government across the board. 

Milton Friedman is rolling over in his grave.

“When government - in pursuit of good intentions - tries to rearrange the economy, legislate morality, or help special interests, the costs come in inefficiency, lack of motivation, and loss of freedom. Government should be a referee, not an active player.” — Milton Friedman

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