Fiscal Fridays with Fred: Playing politics with Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin's budget

April 20, 2021

Hello, Idahoans. And welcome to another Fiscal Fridays with Fred. I want to talk to you about a tale of two budgets, the budget for lieutenant governor's office and the budget for Medicaid. Now, I know what you're thinking: completely unrelated. Why even bring these two in one conversation?

The reason I want to do that is I want to show you how some of the conversations that take place in the Capitol do not serve Idahoans. And of course, don't speak for fiscal conservatism.

So we have Lieutenant Governor McGeachin and she took office in 2019 after being elected in 2018. And her budget for fiscal '19 was $178,000. And it's a small office. It's considered a part-time position. And her request for fiscal '22 was $185,000. Now, we might argue it shouldn't go up at all, but there are some pay increases that go with these offices, but it's not a huge amount. Lieutenant governor's political positions are not very popular. What's that got to do with the budget? You'll see.

So she made a request for about $185,000. And some of that of course is really pay in benefit and changes. And again, as I said, a few years ago, it was $178,000. So what does that about $7,000? Well, the Legislature through the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee cut her budget and they cut it to about a, I think it was $166,000 initially. And then, they sent that budget back. And now they've just cut it again by a smaller amount to $176,000. And they did this with the view that she didn't need all the support positions that she had. They didn't like one of the people she employed. And so, they're now on the second budget and they're going to save a whopping $6,400.

I bring that up because the same Legislature, the Idaho Senate, has just passed by a vote of 29 to 6, a $3.7 billion Medicaid budget. Now, what was the Medicaid budget when Lt. Gov. McGeachin took office? It was $2.5 billion in fiscal '19. The Medicaid budget is up $1.2 billion. And yet some of these legislators are focused on saving $6,400 in the lieutenant governor's office. And the reason is political payback. They don't like her politics. And so they think this is a way to get back at her—to cut an allocation for her staff.

And I mention this because it's important to understand that that Medicaid budget that went from $2.5 billion to $3.7 billion in three years. It's an enormous increase, obviously over a billion dollars. It passed by a 29 to 6 vote in the Idaho Senate, a Senate that's 80% Republican. And I'll add another thing. There's no attempt at savings in that budget. The governor proposed some modest reductions—those were taken out. There going to be some dollars spent to get some work requirements or other side boards—those are taken out. It's autopilot spending. I think it's important that Idahoans realize that there is not a focus on fiscal conservatism at the Capitol in some of these budgets, but political gamesmanship. Thank you for listening to another Fiscal Friday with Fred.

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