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Budget Reform Wins and the Main Street Caucus Gets a Beatdown

Budget Reform Wins and the Main Street Caucus Gets a Beatdown

Ronald M. Nate, Ph.D.
February 9, 2024

This was a very big week in the Idaho Capitol for the average Idahoan struggling with inflation, taxes, and overbearing government. Key votes in the Idaho House and Senate will lead to leaner budgets, less waste, fraud, and abuse, and neutering the so-called Main Street Caucus, which colluded with Democrats and fought these good outcomes all along the way.

Budget Reform:

In the last four years, government spending in Idaho has increased by 54%. The new budget process of considering base budgets separate from growth budgets potentially eliminates the waste, fraud, and abuse we’ve seen recently (see our documentary, Rogue Bureaucracy). This budget reform procedure promises lower spending and, with that, lower taxes. 

The budget reform means legislators won’t have to vote on all the big increases wanted by agencies just to keep the agencies running. The Legislature can vote to “keep the lights on” without voting to “grow the government.”

Several rogue legislators tried to upend the budget reform process, but key votes in the House (38 to 31) and Senate (28 to 7) approved the base budgets without the big increases included.  This means the growth budgets must be considered separately and with fewer line items and dollars included.

Crazy Week in the Capitol:

Last week on Friday, the IFF reported about the attempted coup in the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee (JFAC) and the deception used by rogue legislators to trick Idahoans into thinking the budget reform plan is a bad idea when it’s truly good.  We correctly pointed out how Senate leaders were supportive of the rogue legislators’ maneuvers. 

This week was full of fireworks. In the Senate State Affairs Committee on Monday morning, we saw Senate leaders (Winder, Anthon, and Lee) all adamantly support Senator Cook’s bill to control your cell phones and other devices to supposedly filter pornography from kids (it’s a bad bill with a misplaced emphasis on manufacturers). For context, Senator Cook was one of the “rogue senators” in JFAC who defied the chair’s budget reform plans. Instead of being punished or reprimanded, senate leaders were over-the-top defenders of Cook and his cell phone bill just one legislative day after the hijacking of JFAC.

Competing Plans:

Because of the hijacking of JFAC, there were two sets of bills on their way through the House and Senate. One set was the budget reform plan of all new base budgets separate from the line items (planned for later), while the other set was the 14 agency budgets passed on Hijack Friday (with all spending for each agency included in one bill each). Which set would win, and therefore, which budget procedure would win? 

The House leaders and most House members stuck by their JFAC co-chair, Rep. Wendy Horman. It took a few days to hash it out, but on Wednesday, the House voted to pass the base budget bills separately from growth budgets on a 38-31 vote for the first bill. This signaled the votes on the other base bills to come and the budget reform procedure preferred by the House. Now, the Senate was stuck. Do they agree to the budget reform procedure or bugger up the process by voting on the hijack procedure? On Thursday, the Senate gave in and finally voted 28-7 to ratify the budget reform process. 

Idaho legislators can now turn their focus to reducing government spending. We will watch how the line item bills develop and how the legislators vote. Will the budget reform process lead to lower spending? We think it will, but there are many important budget battles left to play out.

Beatdown in the House:

It did not go unnoticed in the House that nine Republican JFAC members defied committee procedure and the co-chairs of JFAC to vote for big-spending budgets instead of budget reform. They were hijacking the budget committee. By all appearances, the rogue senators had the blessings of Senate leadership. Would the rogue House members on JFAC similarly have the blessings of House leadership? 

The House answer was a flat “no.”  The Idaho House beat down the attempted hijacking of the budget committee. The so-called Main Street Caucus (MSC) of leftist Republicans in the House and Senate, who comprised many of the JFAC rogue members and other key members in the House, were working hard to make the hijacking stick. Instead, they lost the first key vote on maintenance budgets. But that’s not all they lost. 

On Thursday, the House unanimously voted to retain Speaker Mike Moyle and subsequently went to caucus, where they ousted House Majority Leader Rep. Megan Blanksma by secret ballot. Blanksma was supportive and helped to pull off the hijack plan. So, the fellow majority House members voted her out, and the MSC was left licking its wounds.

In sum, the Main Street Caucus tried a coup that would have led to another year of huge state spending increases, favors to special interests, and a worn-out budget process that rewards waste, fraud, and abuse. Instead, the MSC rebels suffered embarrassing losses in their JFAC attempts and on the House and Senate floors as other Republicans voted for fiscal responsibility. 

They lost even more as one of their big allies, Majority Leader Rep. Megan Blanksma, was ousted from her office and will not be meddling in JFAC’s budget reform plans anymore this session. One prominent lobbyist whispered in my ear as it became apparent that Blanksma was losing her office, “That rattling you hear is the dry bones of the Main Street Caucus.”  Perfectly said.

Fiscal Responsibility Wins:

The Idaho Freedom Foundation’s mission is to protect and restore freedom, limit government, and reduce government spending. IFF’s efforts this week to expose the collusion of some Republicans, Democrats, and Senate leaders were key in preserving the budget reform procedure. We reported on what was happening. We worked with legislators to help them see the problems, strategize for solutions, and beat back the attempts to spend your money.  Budget reform will go far in stopping the waste of Idaho resources, the rewards to special interests, and abuses of the legislative process. 

This week, freedom won, fiscal responsibility won, and hard-working Idaho families won. The Idaho Freedom Foundation applauds those legislators who maintained their principles and who did the right thing despite many pressures to the contrary.

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