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House Bill 340 — Legislative Branch Appropriation

House Bill 340 — Legislative Branch Appropriation

Fred Birnbaum
March 18, 2021

The Idaho Spending Index examines appropriation bills on several fronts to add some important context to lawmakers’ discussions as the spending bills are considered on the House and Senate floors. As we look at the budget, we consider the following issues:

Does the agency requesting these funds serve a proper role of government? Has wasteful or duplicative spending been identified within the agency, and if so, has that spending been eliminated or corrected? Have budget-writers reviewed existing outlays to look for opportunities to contain spending, e.g., through a base reduction? If there is a maintenance budget, is that maintenance budget appropriate? Are the line items appropriate in type and size, and are they absolutely necessary for serving the public? Does the budget contemplate adding new employees or programs? Does the appropriation increase dependency on the federal government?

Our analysis is intended to provide lawmakers and their constituents with a frame of reference for conservative budgeting, by summarizing whether appropriation measures contain items that are truly  objectionable or legitimate and worthy of support.

Bill Description: Legislative Branch, FY22 Appropriation

Rating: 0

On first view, this budget represents a large increase in headcount for the Legislative Service Office. This staff has a tremendous amount of work and responsibility during the session but does get compensatory time off after the session ends. So the huge work volume is not year-round. The four full-time positions (FTP) added require an appropriation of $421k per year, and the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC) made an attempt to compensate for this addition by removing 5 vacant FTP positions from the Tax Commission. The only imbalance is reducing the Tax Commission by 5 FTP only saved $180k, which implies that it was more of a capture of excess funds than a true reduction of 5 positions. However, the attempt was made.

When we compare the headcount in this branch to the Division of Financial Management and the Governor’s Office, those offices appear to have actually reduced headcount. For example in FY20, DFM had 25 FTPs, and it currently has 19; the Executive Office of the Governor in FY20 had 24, and now it has 21. The Legislative Branch had 66.5, and with this appropriation, it will have 78. But it must be noted that the Office of the Governor now has 6 FTPs in the Office of Drug Policy, something that did not exist in FY20. The Office of IT Services, which did not exist in FY20, had about 66 FTP before consolidation and now has about 135.

This headcount growth is a risky move, because it could just be a growth of government action. The Legislature should use these new positions to uncover savings in various agencies and arm legislators and JFAC with the information needed to take action. More reports will not cut it. In our view, the Legislature has provided poor oversight of Health and Welfare; it has accepted massive agency growth without digging into ways to trim these budgets. With the massive infusion of federal funds, it’s possible the extra staff could be put to good use, but only if the legislative mindset goes beyond merely accepting government growth.

Finally, consideration should be given to rolling in some of the positions of the Office of Performance Evaluations into the Legislative Service Office staff. It is not entirely clear that the value is there for this separate group. 

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