The Idaho Spending Index examines appropriation bills on several fronts to add important context to lawmakers’ discussions as they are considered on the floor of the House and Senate. Among the issues we look at in drawing a conclusion about a budget:
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? Does the budget examine existing spending 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 the addition of 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 sincerely objectionable or sincerely supportable.
Bill description: House Bill 770 appropriates $105,504,000 and 400 full-time positions to the Supreme Court and Judicial Branch for the 2023 fiscal year.
The court system has grown impressively in the last several years and this appropriation continues that trend.
In FY17, the actual expenditures were $61 million with 322 full-time positions. For FY23, staff is up to 400 full-time positions with 25 positions added with this budget alone.
In addition to new trial court administrators and judges, 7 positions are to be added for Covid-19 related expenses. This $20 million line item is funded from ARPA and is described on page 3-57 of the Legislative Budget Book as follows:
“According to the agency, during the Covid-19 pandemic, Idaho courts were required to adapt to new health safety requirements while preventing court closures and ensuring access to justice.” This required the courts to increasingly rely on technology for online case filing and remote hearings, etc. What is not clear is why using technology to replace on-site activity should require more staff and not less. Also, $16.1 million of this $20 million line item is for travel, professional development and computer services. That is a very large sum of money. It represents about a quarter of the entire budget from just a few years ago. This is very concerning.