The Idaho Spending Index serves to provide a fiscally conservative perspective on state budgeting while providing an unbiased measurement of how Idaho lawmakers apply these values to their voting behavior on appropriations bills. Each bill is analyzed within the context of the metrics below. They receive one (+1) point for each metric that is satisfied by freedom-focused policymaking and lose one (-1) point for each instance in which the inverse is true. The sum of these points composes the score for the bill.
Analyst: Niklas Kleinworth
Bill Description: House Bill 299 appropriates $14,764,600 and 35.50 full-time positions to the Office of the Secretary of State for fiscal year 2024.
Does this budget incur any wasteful spending among discretionary funds, including new line items? Conversely, does this budget contain any provisions that serve to reduce spending where possible (i.e. base reductions, debt reconciliation, etc.)?
House Bill 299 appropriates $10 million to implement a new elections data system to replace the existing system. The current data system is a comprehensive system that incorporates elections, lobbying, and campaign finance data into one interface. The new system would actually be three new systems to manage each of these areas separately.
The old elections data system was initially funded in 2019 and cost $3.8 million. However, this software was only partially implemented after nearly five years. Though there are many complaints about this current system, there should be a healthy dose of skepticism over the benefits of a new elections system. For example, the Secretary of State must hire several new positions to administer these new programs, indicating a lack of efficiency, usability, and durability — qualities that are usually sought when replacing an old system.
Overall, this budget seeks to replace the existing elections system with one that requires more staff to operate and is more than two-and-a-half times more expensive. This is a questionable use of taxpayer dollars.
Is the maintenance budget inappropriate for the needs of the state, the size of the agency, or the inflationary environment of the economy? Conversely, is the maintenance budget appropriate given the needs of the state and economic pressures?
This legislation sets the maintenance budget for the Office of the Secretary of State at $4,238,300, growing from the base by 17.4% in the last three years. This rate is higher than what would be prescribed by inflationary pressures and growth.
Does the budget grow government through the addition of new permanent FTPs or through funding unlegislated efforts to create new or expanded entitlement programs? Conversely, does this budget reduce the size of government staff and programs except where compelled by new legislation?
In addition to what would be provided through the supplemental request described below, the Secretary of State seeks to grow his staff by another five positions. These positions include a business office Customer Service Representative, a Voting System Specialist, a Campaign Finance Specialist, a Lobbyist Specialist, and a Land Board Liaison.
Those positions for the voting, lobbying, and campaign finance systems are requested in part due to the provision of a new elections data system, provided for in this legislation. The positions for the new elections system seem frivolous, being that they already existed in the prior administration under Secretary Lawerence Denney. Furthermore, the election season and lobbying season are not year-round activities. Though Idaho’s four election seasons may occasionally overlap, the busy season only lasts during the month leading up to election day and in the subsequent weeks to conduct audits. This is because the administrative duties are carried out at the county level under Title 24, Chapter 2, of the Idaho Code. A similar case can be made for lobbying, as there are generally only bills to report lobbying activities for during the three months that the legislature is in session. Any activities outside of the legislative session get reported in a comprehensive year-end report.
The Land Board Liaison would help the Secretary with his responsibilities related to being on the Land Board. However, this is unnecessary as all constitutional officers are part of the Land Board in addition to the Director of the Department of Lands. Officers are intended to provide a perspective on how land issues concern their constitutional roles and are in no way intended to serve as experts with large staffs to brief them on land issues. This position creates more overhead and bureaucratic bloat on the Land Board.
These positions are arguably frivolous and increase the size of the agency, ongoing spending, and the overall size of government.
Does this budget contain hidden fund transfers or supplemental expenditures that work to enact new policy or are not valid emergency expenditures? Conversely, are fund transfers only made to stabilization funds or are supplemental requests only made in the interest of resolving valid fiscal emergencies?
House Bill 299 provides an $81,400 supplemental to add three new positions to the Office of the Secretary of State. Two of these positions are new FTPs while one is an unfunded internal position. These positions include an elections data scientist to analyze data and aid in the management of the new elections data management system requested as a line item. The office will also hire a new Elections Education Coordinator to train county clerks around the state. The final new position is an Executive Assistant to manage the Secretary of State’s affairs and schedule.
In the case of adding the new Data Scientist and Education Coordinator positions, there is no emergent need for these positions to be added before the 2023 fiscal year concludes in three months. Especially because this is an off year for major elections, and nearly all aspects of elections are managed at the county level, limiting the workload of the office.
One would expect a new Secretary of State to need an executive assistant in his office. However, this position preexisted Secretary Phil McGrane’s before he reassigned the FTP to another role in the office. Questions should be raised about how these FTPs were reallocated within the office, warranting the need for a new position for an assistant.
None of these positions would address an emergency within the office. Therefore, this is not a valid use of a supplemental request.