The state Legislature basically has one responsibility when it meets each year: Pass a budget. If the Legislature fails to do this one thing, state government will not operate. Agencies will not operate. Programs will not operate.
The budget-writing process is important. It decides the priorities for spending. When agencies request money, lawmakers decide what’s important and what’s not, what deserves the support of taxpayers and what doesn’t.
And so it is chilling to me when I read that some agency officials figure the Legislature shouldn’t even play a role in how or whether money is allocated. That’s what IdahoReporter.com’s Austin Hill was told when he asked about the Idaho Department of Education’s distribution of federal grant dollars to school districts throughout Idaho. Some school districts are taking federal dollars and using them for “wellness programs.” And it’s not just kids who are the targeted beneficiaries of such programs; adults are participating in school wellness activities, Hill learned.
You’d think the Legislature, which is rightfully skeptical about funding government pre-schools, would be similarly skeptical about funding adult wellness programs. But the Legislature hasn’t gotten a chance to say yes or no to such programs. The funding bypasses lawmakers entirely.
“I don’t think we need to go across the street (to the Legislature) to get permission on dispersing these grants,” Colleen Fillmore, the director of the State Department of Education’s child nutrition programs, told Hill.
It’s not surprising that an agency bureaucrat would feel that way, but getting permission is exactly what agencies are supposed to do. And legislators should demand exactly that. Allowing the people’s representatives no say on the expenditure of taxpayer dollars violates the basic purpose for having a Legislature in the first place.
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