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Idaho Legislature’s powerful budget committee to have fresh faces in 2023

Idaho State Capitol - 2021
Otto Kitsinger
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The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee room at the Idaho State Capitol building on March 23, 2021. The powerful committee is responsible for setting the state’s budget. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

Depending on 2022 election results, 15 of JFAC’s 20 members could be new next year

One of the Idaho Legislature’s largest, most complicated and hardest working committees will be under new leadership when the Idaho Legislature reconvenes in 2023.

And depending how the 2022 elections shake out, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee could look almost completely different next year.

The two top ranking Idaho House members serving on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee are retiring this year. Both JFAC co-chairman Rick Youngblood, R-Nampa, and co-vice chairwoman Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee, decided not seek reelection this year.

“They’ll have their challenges, but I believe that they will get through it,” Youngblood said, pointing out that when he was elected 10 years ago, he was part of a large freshman class in the Idaho House after 26 incumbents did not seek re-election in 2012.

Youngblood said he would have strongly considered switching to run for the Idaho Senate if there was an open seat in his district, but he did not want to run against his friend and neighbor Sen. Todd Lakey, who decided to seek re-election. Youngblood initially did file for re-election in the Idaho House, but withdrew his name and is supporting GOP candidate Shaun Laughlin.

Troy said redistricting played a role in her retirement decision. The new legislative map placed her among five legislative incumbents that would have been vying for three legislative seats.
“When you have people that you work with that you like that could run for your spot, that makes it a little easier,” Troy said.

JFAC meets every morning to conduct budget hearings and write the state’s $4.5 billion general fund budget. Troy said the assignment is tough and experience is important.

“These budgets are complicated, and it takes awhile to learn them,” Troy said. “I’ve been working Health and Welfare budgets now for four years and I was on the Health and Welfare Committee my first two years in office, so there is a learning curve and I am kind of concerned about how that might sort itself out the next go around. So I hope we get some really bright new faces in here.”

The list of JFAC committee leaders leaving is just the tip of the iceberg. Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, is another JFAC member who is leaving the Legislature, in this case, to run for higher office in 2022. Sen. Mark Nye, D-Pocatello, is retiring.

Rep. Scott Syme, R-Caldwell, another JFAC member, faces a contested primary against incumbent Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, thanks to redistricting.

Another JFAC member, Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, faces contested GOP primary election on May 17 against former Rep. Britt Raybould, who is also a Republican from Rexburg.

On the Idaho Senate side of JFAC, Sen. C. Scott Grow, R-Eagle, faces a contested GOP primary against Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett. Two incumbents are vying for a single seat in the District 14 Senate race thanks to redistricting. A third Republican candidate, Katie Donahue of Emmett, is also in the race. Although they don’t face off against incumbents, JFAC co-chairman Jeff Agenbroad, R-Nampa, co-vice chairman Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville, and Sens. Jim Woodward, R-Sagle; Dave Lent, R-Idaho Falls; Peter Riggs, R-Post Falls; Kevin Cook, R-Idaho Falls; and Reps. Paul Amador, R-Coeur d’Alene, and Matthew Bundy, R-Mountain Home, all face contested primaries.

At a minimum, four of JFAC’s 20 current members will be out next year. Depending on primary election results, as many as 15 of the committee’s 20 members could all be new next year.

Staffing changes have also affected JFAC. Troy said five or six of JFAC’s nonpartisan budget analysts were new this year.

Changes could come to JFAC leadership positions

One experienced JFAC member who doesn’t have an election opponent in 2022 is Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls. Horman has previously served as a co-vice chairwoman on JFAC and could be in line to climb JFAC’s ranks in 2023, depending on House leadership elections following the Nov. 8 general election.

Over the past 10 years, some of the most powerful former members of the Legislature served as co-chairs of JFAC, including retired Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, retired Sen. Dean Cameron, a Rupert Republican who is now director of the Idaho Department of Insurance, and retired Sen. Shawn Keough, a Sandpoint Republican who now serves on the State Board of Education.

Drastic changes in 2023 won’t be limited to JFAC. Speaker of the House Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, is leaving the Legislature to run for lieutenant governor, ensuring there will be a new speaker for the first time in 10 years. Rep. Greg Chaney, who is one of several House members leaving to run for the Idaho Senate, predicted there could be the largest turnover in state history after 2022, beating the 2012 record.

Chaney thinks there is a lot at stake with so many changes coming.

“There is an opportunity to set a tone in a really big way as far as how we conduct ourselves in 2023,” Chaney said. “And that can either be a very positive shift or a very negative shift, and it remains to be seen which one it is.”

Chaney said some of the responsibility for setting the tone will be returning elected members of the House and Senate, including those serving in their first terms this year by demonstrating a respect for the institution of the Legislature and modeling integrity and decorum.

If not, Chaney fears the integrity of the institution could be lost.

“2021, I think, was the low water mark for the Idaho House of Representatives, and I think it would be really hard to make a serious case that there was a worse block between maybe summer 2020 and special session November 2021 with the second ethics hearing, there has not been a darker time than that,” Chaney added. “So do we act more like before and set the tone for a new generation of legislators, or do we kind of return to the low-water mark in our tone and our behavior?”

Idaho Legislature to reconvene Thursday

The Idaho Legislature is scheduled to return from recess on Thursday. Both the Idaho House and Idaho Senate finished their business late Friday but chose to go at recess instead of adjourning, in part to see if Gov. Brad Little vetoed any bills. On Monday, Little vetoed Senate Bill 1381, which would pause COVID-19 vaccine requirements for a year. Little called it an overreach of government power. If legislators attempt to override the veto on Thursday, it would take a two-thirds vote of the members present in the House and the Senate to override. If all House members are present, it would take 47 votes to override Little’s veto. Senate Bill 1381 originally passed 45-23, with two House members absent.

The primary elections are set for May 17, with the winners advancing to the Nov. 8 general election.